‘A Dangerous Method’ — disappointing portrayal of Freud’s talking method

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

“What do women want?” Sigmund Freud once famously asked.

Well, this particular woman does NOT want “A Dangerous Method,” David Cronenberg’s surprisingly tepid and disappointing about Freud and his colleague/rival Carl Jung.

Where is the Cronenberg of yore? The envelop-pushing genius behind such creepy cult classics as “The Brood,” “Dead Ringers” and “Videodrome?”

Granted, he’s made a few stabs at what could be termed “Hollywood-Glossy Cultism.” Films like “The Fly,” “The Dead Zone,” and, more recently, “A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises.” But there was always a sense of the submerged, not-completely-housebroken Cronenberg, lurking beneath the surface.

“A Dangerous Method,” stars the director’s frequent collaborator, Viggo Mortensen (aka Aragorn), as Freud, and Michael Fassbender as Yung. Keira Knightley twitches mightily as a hysteric whose vagina must have wandered into her lower jaw (look it up). At times, she juts said jaw out so far I thought I heard her whisper, “It was a sling blade.”

Ok, I’m not exactly what sort of film could be made about the so-called Talking Method, the “dangerous method” of the title. Think of that old New Yorker cartoon, “Lassie, Get Help,” where the famous collie reclines on a shrink’s couch.

Still, at least the emphasis on “talking” helps explain why the movie feels like what James Ivory and Ismail Merchant might have done with “Marat/Sade.” That is, make it decorous and well behaved, no matter what sort of bull-goose-looney stuff is going on in front of the camera.

I can’t really blame the cast. Mortensen, Fassbender and even Knightley do their best to eschew the sort of scenery-chewing suggested in one scene after another (Knightley is easy to make fun of, but, Lord, I have no idea what else could be done with her role). Vincent Cassell (the imperious ballet maestro in last year’s “Black Swan”) shows up as a satyr-like Force-of-Nature, yet the film’s use-the-good-china tone never falters.

Cronenberg remains one of my most revered directors, but if the credits hadn’t said so, I would never have guessed “A Dangerous Method” was his film.

And in a crucial way, it isn’t. Cronenberg is working from a play by Christopher Hampton called “The Talking Cure.” Hampton is basically a respected playwright whose sporadic success has made him more a name than voice (as opposed, say, to Tennessee Williams or Tom Stoppard).

I wonder why or how this particular collaboration came about. Sometimes, you just have to know when to shut up. Or back out.

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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