Combustible Celluloid
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With: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel, Sarah Gadon, André Hennicke, Arndt Schwering-Sohnrey
Written by: Christopher Hampton, based on a book by John Kerr, and on a play by Christopher Hampton
Directed by: David Cronenberg
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content and brief language
Running Time: 99
Date: 09/02/2011

A Dangerous Method (2011)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Dinky Shrinks

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One of the greatest living filmmakers, director David Cronenberg has often explored issues surrounding the human body, and in his later, more mature films, the theme of identity. A Dangerous Method seemed right up his alley, but instead he delivers the most disappointing movie of his career.

In 1904, a sexually hysterical Russian woman, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), is put under the care of Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). He eventually cures her from her frightening seizures and, drawing upon her own interest in psychiatry, makes her his assistant. Despite the fact that Jung is already married, and his wife pregnant, he begins an affair with Sabina, wherein pleasure is derived from violence. Later, Jung meets his hero Dr. Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), and though at first they pleasantly argue over opposing theories, they eventually have a falling out over the fate of Sabina. Vincent Cassel provides another layer as an analyst getting treatment for his tendency to give into pleasure impulses.

Whereas Cronenberg usually plumbs uncomfortable and powerful depths of human boundaries, here he mostly just skims the surface. While it does have some powerful moments, the movie seems more in the business of avoiding than exploring.

The main problem is that the screenplay comes from Christopher Hampton's theatrical play, which in turn came from a non-fiction book by John Kerr. It takes place over the course of decades, and scenes skip over great chunks of time; nothing ever gets the chance to sink in. However, the excellent performances count for a great deal, and the conversations are exceedingly intelligent, offering up provocative arguments on sex, the ego, and the concept of destiny.

For a more potent Cronenberg movie on the horrors of human psychology, see 2002's Spider.

Sony Pictures Classics' new DVD comes with a short, 7-minute, studio-produced "Making of" featurette, a 30-minute onstage interview with Cronenberg, and an informative Cronenberg commentary track, as well as trailers for this and other Sony Pictures Classics releases.

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