"Are they aware that we are bringing them the plague?", asks casually Michael Fassbender's Carl Gustav Jung of Viggo Mortensen's Sigmund Freud with Ellis Island on the horizon of their liner deck at one point in David Cronenberg's film adaptation of Christopher Hampton's play The Talking Cure. This casual, offhand remark crystallises the crux of this oddly cold, angular, yet passionately enthralling film: after the plagues of the body, throughout his celebrated cycle of "body horror" films, the Canadian director has moved on to the plagues of the soul, looking, since Spider, to make visible the inward manifestations of the decay and liberation that have always fascinated him. Underneath A Dangerous Method's appearance of talky prestige piece, theatrical bonbon for upscale audiences, lies a fiery, passionate, exquisitely modulated tale of disquieting inner changes, as the 1900 arrival in a Zurich clinic of hysterical patient Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) sets Jung and Freud in a collision course that, over the next decade, will plant the seeds of modern psychiatry and open the pathways of the mind.
Though outwardly it seems an atypical film for Mr. Cronenberg, it is in fact a continuation of his work through different ways. The exquisite, glacial, highly precise cutting and the heightened theatricality of the production and costume design and of the mise en scène make visible the fact that, in the socially regulated society of early 1900s Central Europe, only inside their own minds could people truly be themselves. Mr. Cronenberg makes sure that passion rests entirely in the performances of his malleable cast, and the actors respond with painstakingly detailed work. Ms. Knightley may have the most visible performance (the role demands her to start out in the throes of hysteria that can easily fall this side of laughable), but she throws herself into it with the vigour and gusto of an actress who has finally been given a challenge to overcome. But it's Mr. Fassbender's outstanding turn as Jung that is exemplary of the depth of feeling, rigour and intelligence that the director demanded and got from his cast; one that also applies to this masterful film whose wealth of possible subtexts and dimensions (political, sexual, social, personal, racial) are lightly worn rather than heavily underlined, confirming Mr. Cronenberg as a director who has refused to stand still and continues to explore and mature in ways not necessarily expected by his long-term followers.
Starring Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Gadon; and Vincent Cassel.
Director, David Cronenberg; producer, Jeremy Thomas; screenplay, Christopher Hampton, based on his stage play The Talking Cure and on the book by John Kerr, A Most Dangerous Method; music, Howard Shore; director of photography (colour by DeLuxe), Peter Suschitzky; production designer, James McAteer; costume designer, Denise Cronenberg; film editor, Ronald Sanders.
A Jeremy Thomas presentation; a Lago Film/Prospero Pictures/Recorded Picture Company co-production, in association with Millbrook Pictures and Dangerous Method Film; with the participation of Téléfilm Canada, Ontario Media Development Corporation, Corus Entertainment, Deutscher Filmförderfonds, Filmförderungsanstalt, Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Filmförderung Baden-Württemberg, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Elbe Film, Movie Central, The Movie Network; developed with the assistance of the UK Film Council's Development Fund; with assistance from the MEDIA Programme. (World sales, Hanway Films. US distributor, Sony Pictures Classics.)
Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo 9 (Lisbon), November 14th 2011.