Body horror has long disappeared from David Cronenberg’s canon. At 70, the Canadian now trades mainly in a fine line of psychodrama. 2002’s underrated Spider preceded the brooding A History of Violence and the menacing Eastern Promises, all of them exploring the psyche with not a mutation in sight. An adaptation of Christopher Hampton’s play The Talking Cure, A Dangerous Method is Cronenberg’s playground.

A perfect vessel for the director’s provocative style, it’s a potent study of the relationship between Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud and their patient and eventual colleague Sabina Spielrein.

The film plays out in just as intense a fashion as its subject matter. That’s not to say it’s not entertaining, it really is. A beautifully structured movie, it’s surprisingly very funny, the blackly comic script lifting an already fascinating story arc. At its core are three engrossing performances from Michael Fassbender (Jung) Viggo Mortensen (Freud) and Keira Knightley (Spielrein), each walking a wire and the text loaded with meaning. Much has been made of Knightley’s frankly manic portrayal of Spielrein, first a hysterical patient of Jung’s then his lover and analytical peer. Sure, she’s completely bananas and what she manages to do with her jaw is more disturbing than anything you’ve seen in a Cronenberg film since Videodrome, but this almost laughably over the top character is completely at odds with Fassbender’s Jung, who’s full of bourgeois restraint. They collide astonishingly.

We’re left with little breathing space as the dialogue envelops each scene and we jump from interior to interior, perhaps part of the analysis ourselves. As stifling as this seems, we’re swept into Jung and Freud’s enthralling father/son relationship and debate of is there more to life than sex? Viggo certainly doesn’t think so and his droll observations on Jung’s tumultuous research proffer charming moments of cinema.

In the mix there’s Vincent Cassel playing… well… Vincent Cassel, his take on Jung’s hedonistic patient Otto Gross another delight. It’s Otto who’s the catalyst for much of the film’s drama as he memorably tells Jung “never suppress anything”.

By Ian Roebuck

Originally published in issue 35 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. March 2012