A Dangerous Method

Year: 2011
Production Co: Hanway Films
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Director: David Cronenberg
Writer: Christopher Hampton
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel

A performer's piece of the sort actors and awards ceremonies love – I'll be very surprised if an Oscar doesn't go home with either Fassbender or Knightley on the night.

There aren't many other circumstances under which a period piece could be so overtly sexual, and if the thought of seeing Keira Knightley bent over a bedhead getting a good spanking is your cup of tea, this might be better than porn.

Not that there's anything one-note about Knightley's performance as the brilliant but troubled young Sabina. Her opening scenes, when she's bought into the mental hospital where young doctor Jung (Fassbender) works, are very intense and you'll wonder if she isn't aggrandising the tiniest bit, but all round it's a very naked and honest portrayal.

Sabina comes into Jung's care and as he treats her they're both open and frank about her tics and fits being the result of sexual abuse at the hands of her father. Sabina is soon on the road to recovery to the extent she begins working with Jung in his practice to fulfill her ambitions of being a psychiatric doctor herself.

At the same time, Jung is corresponding with the godfather of the movement he subscribes to, Sigmund Freud (a calm and elegant Mortensen, Cronenberg's go-to guy lately). Frued is only too pragmatic about getting their theories accepted in medical circles and wants Jung to rein in his interest in the paranormal for fear it will make them too easy for their enemies to ridicule, and it's the resulting rift that ultimately drives the two men apart.

But it's more Jung's story than Freud's and it's Jung who goes through the personal calamity of a character arc. Like many films dealing with the buttoned down civility of the period, there's a strong emphasis on the belief that we can overcome our baser desires and our guilt when we can't resist the temptation of them. Jung occupies a genteel world of top hats, intellectual discourse and his devoted relationship to his pretty wife and darling children.

But he can't deny the desire Sabina's need for sexual punishment raises in him, and no matter how many times he tells her (and himself) it's over, he always ends up back at her apartment laying into her with a belt. As another patient of his who might just be the smartest one of the lot, Otto Gross (Cassel at his most Bohemian), tells Jung, why fight the nature to screw as much as you can God gave you? Gross' advice prompts crises of morality and self-belief in Jung that threaten his undoing.

It's a beautifully designed and shot drama with intense and at times exquisite acting and it shows one of the most fascinating transitions in the film industry. Once upon a time when David Cronenberg made horror films that had their fans but were still cheap and schlocky, you wouldn't mention his name in association with the Oscars any more than you would George Romero or Roger Corman.

© 2011-2018 Filmism.net. Site design and programming by psipublishinganddesign.com | adambraimbridge.com | humaan.com.au