Her arrival is marked by gnashing, bucking, and a jetting jaw so sharp it could slice an artery. She is Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), the daughter of wealthy Russian Jews, and she is in town, so to speak, to begin treatment with the up-and-coming Swiss doctor, Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender, impressive once again). Using the controversial new method known as the “talking cure”, Jung draws out the increasingly hysterical Sabina until, well, she spills forth with a rush of sexual dysfunction. She was beaten by a tyrannical father, took pleasure from withholding defecation, and, as luck would have it, eventually expresses a grave desire to bed the naïve young doctor. And so begins David Cronenberg’s sublime new psycho-drama, A Dangerous Method, a film destined to appear on my year-end ten-best list for sheer entertainment value alone. Expecting a dry, pointless exercise, I was instead treated to a witty, sly, sexually charged battle royale between the two great giants of psychoanalysis, Dr. Jung and his more famous father figure, Sigmund Freud. As played by Viggo Mortensen (as if channeling Paul Muni), Freud is an arrogant, cigar-chomping bastard with brilliance to burn. He’s all crisp suit and well-manicured beard, and as such, he’s destined to drive a stake through the heart of his young protégé. Their early friendship (begun as a marathon 12-hour conversation) leads to much more, only to disintegrate in the face of conflicting opinions (it seems that Jung is a little too fond of mysticism). Freud was right, of course, and his assessment of Jung blisteringly accurate, as the pair manages to inhabit a wrestling ring like two intellectuals warring for the soul of mankind.
Sabina successfully seduces Jung, needless to say, and their passionate encounters run the gamut from heavy petting to not one, but two highly-charged spankings (in fairness, one is more accurately labeled a whipping). Jung’s painfully proper moustache always appears on the verge of violent indulgence, yet he manages to rationalize his infringement on the doctor/patient separation with the expected hilarious hypocrisy. He rages against Freud for reducing the whole of the human animal to sexual repression, yet proves the wise Austrian’s theories correct time and time again. Again, I have no idea how historically accurate any of this is, nor do I care, and for once, a movie involving iconic figures throws caution to the wind and insists on having fun. Instead of studious aspirations, the film relies on verbal combat, spitting out fascinating ideas and theories without regard for the audience’s ability to follow along. Some dismissed the movie as “talky”, which more often than not damns the critic as simpleminded, rather than accurately describing the verbiage on display. I mean, this is Sigmund Freud, the man who brought the penis front and center to any and all debates. Who on earth would want him to remain tight-lipped? Years pass, journeys begin and end, and throughout, despite the brief 99-minute running time, we feel sated. Tightly, hysterically wound, the whole thing flirts with fabulous disaster by burning the rule book for highlighting the past.