David Cronenberg’s first outing in four years may promise naked breasts, repressed sexual urges and penis envy but his latest film A Dangerous Method isn’t quite as dangerous as the name suggests.

A historical drama based on Christopher Hampton’s play ‘The Talking Cure’ and John Kerr’s book ‘A Most Dangerous Method’, the film chronicles Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud and Sabina Spielrein, the early pioneers of psychoanalysis.

The film opens at a Swiss clinic where Jung is first introduced to Spielrein, a Russian trainee doctor who’s been admitted suffering from hysteria. Successfully treating Spielrein using Freud’s new ‘talking cure’ eventually leads to her taking a position as Jung’s assistant (with benefits).

Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class, Shame) takes on the role of the Swedish doctor Jung, previously filled by Ralph Fiennes in the National Theatre play. Fassbender’s penetrating portrayal of the inquisitive physician holds the audience far longer than the film deserves and is a welcome distraction from ‘all chin and teeth’ Keira Knightley (Atonement, Never Let Me Go) as the annoyingly jittery Spielrein.

Jung’s success leads to a long standing communication and friendship with one of the most influential minds of the 20th century, the Jewish neurologist Sigmund Freud. The assured and watchable Viggo Mortensen (A History of Violence, The Road) emanates confidence and respect as the father of psychoanalysis, whose theories continue to be controversial today.

The film is a decent attempt to tell the story of psychoanalysis from the point of view of Jung and Freud’s seminal relationship, but is often too overt with its plot devices. Jung’s sessions with Freud’s misguided student Otto Gross, excellently played by Vincent Cassel (Mesrine, Black Swan), added some necessary pace and humour to the film and also the encouragement Jung needed to accept the advances of his colleague Spielrein.

Using the rumoured sexual relationship between Jung and Spielrein as a clever plot device the films central theme was sexual behaviour and morality. As well as communicating Freud’s theories the audience were offered some semi-naked titillation from Knightley.

In combating Europe’s Resistance to psychoanalysis and rising anti-Semitism, Jung’s contribution to the progression of Freud’s ‘talking therapy’ was essential, but Freud’s rigidity in diagnosing patients in terms of sexual causes led to a fundamental split with Jung and his more mystical wanderings, ending their famous collaboration.

Jung continued to develop his own theories on psychiatry and dream interpretation (famously interpreting his dream about Liverpool, spawning to quote ‘Liverpool is the pool of life’) but with very little mentioned about Spielrein’s own theories on sex and death, the film seems a strange departure for the ‘Baron of Blood’ Cronenberg.

And at 99 minutes in length, this relatively short film lacks impetus and ultimately fails to hold the audience.

– Vinny Lawrenson-Woods

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