Sandy George spells out why you can't miss David Cronenberg’s movie about Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung this Saturday at 8.30pm on SBS ONE.
20 May 2014 - 2:27 PM  UPDATED 30 May 2016 - 12:28 PM

Learn more about the brain

Is anyone not fascinated by how the brain works? A Dangerous Method explores the relatively brief but intense relationship between two of the world’s most renowned brain explorers—Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung—at a time when Freud was pioneering psychoanalysis and Jung is testing his own theories while treating a young disturbed woman who is as smart as they are.

David Cronenberg

Is any film that emerges from the mind of Canadian director David Cronenberg and his team not worth seeing? I don’t think so because his idiosyncratic approach makes him a giant of quality cinema. My Cronenberg favourites are Crash, because of the out-there nature of its subject matter, and A History of Violence, because of the intensity of the story and the flawless performance of Viggo Mortensen. (Although some think of the latter as his most conventional film and perhaps it is.) Both films were in competition in Cannes, as were Spider, Cosmopolis and this year’s Maps to the Stars, starring Julianne Moore and, in a supporting role, our Mia Wasikowska.

Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender

And speaking of Mortensen, does anyone not think he and Michael Fassbender are not among the finest actors working today?  Fassbender plays Jung in A Dangerous Method, and Viggo Mortensen plays Freud. But there’s the added joy of them bouncing off each other. Their portrayals of these two highly intelligent, sophisticated, playful, important historical figures are hugely compelling. (If Mortensen looks a wee bit odd, it’s because he is wearing a prosthetic nose. And, for the record, Cronenberg and Mortensen also collaborated on Eastern Promises.)

The music

The music is pretty splendid. It makes use of Richard Wagner's Siegfried, the third of his The Ring of the Nibelung operas.

Keira Knightley’s Sabina Spielrein

The lack of control that plagues Jung’s patient-later-lover Sabina, and her resultant vulnerability, is also compelling. I’m not a huge fan of Keira Knightley, because there’s always a fussiness about her, but it is almost impossible to take your eyes off this performance. She tells of the challenges of the role in an interview here.  The original screenplay by Christopher Hampton was called Sabina and the real Sabina Spielrein went on to become one of the world’s first psychoanalysts, specialising in children. It is generally agreed now that she deserved more credit for her work in the field and what happened to her after the timeframe of the film makes for fascinating reading.

Its look and feel

Finally, the production and costume design is superb.  Given the attention focussed on Freud and Jung during their lifetimes, there were many photos available and the detail they contained was meticulously followed. It was an elegant period and costume designer Denise Cronenberg—the director’s niece—has said she has never chosen so many different pieces of lace for a film. Some filming also took place at Freud’s old house in Vienna, which is now a museum. Other locations included Lake Constance and Cologne, which is where the studio component was undertaken. It’s worth noting Freud’s chair in the film really was his chair and he designed it, admittedly in the period after the film is set—which was from 1904 to 1913 from my understanding—but what production designer could resist including it!