The early twentieth century: at the Burghölzli Clinic in Zürich a young woman has been brought in suffering from hysteria. She is Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), daughter of a strict and powerful Russian businessman, and when her doctor, Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) first sees her, he recognises straight away that she has trouble facing up to her feelings about her parent. Sabina is in a bad way, contorting her features and body and driven to wild behaviour, yet in her Jung sees everything he wants in a patient: someone to analyse, or psychoanalyse, even, with the newfangled "Talking Cure".
Yes, it was the birth of all that incredibly influential headshrinking which concerned us here, brought to the screen by director David Cronenberg as he continued to eschew the horror movies he had made his name with and preferred to concentrate on the psychological effects he was so interested in, yet had formerly dressed up in the fantastical. A Dangerous Method was also part of the culture of introducing sadomasochism to the mainstream, something which often showed up in comedy, but was also appearing in such unlikely places as series television: Lois Lane on Smallville even wound up in elaborate sexual bondage in one episode.
Not that this was ninety minutes of Keira getting spanked as you might have thought from the trailer, as this was more about what was going on in the heads of the three main characters, all of whom happened to be real people who had pioneered a movement in working out exactly what makes our minds tick. One of those is the father of psychoanalysis himself, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), a cigar chomping wise man who has his own hang ups, the whole premise of the film being to give the intellectuals a taste of their own medicine. That was part of the cheek of Cronenberg's efforts here, which had a curious tone as while you could be lost in the deluge of talk, there was almost the arrangement of a deadpan comedy here.
Not that you would find yourself roaring with laughter at regular points throughout the film, because Cronenberg kept it typically cerebral, if anything with all that rationally scientific discussion going on it was his most highbrow work yet, which turned off a lot of audiences hoping for a run around the theories, and more pertinently the quirks, of Freud and Jung. They get to know each other through their letters - letters were the text messages of their day, you know? - so when they meet they enthusiastically analyse their dreams and posit their theories at one another, relishing the give and take that such conversation can have when each has met their intellectual equal. Yet that does not mean they are always in agreement.
According to this, the sticking points of Jung's fascination with the paranormal and Freud's fears over how his Jewish background will subject him to prejudice and dismissal of his ideas forced a wedge between them, but then there's the even stickier point of Sabina's influence over Jung. He is happily married, but one of his patients, ex-therapist Gross (Vincent Cassel), lowers his barriers to the world of gratifying your impulses to pleasure, and before long he is acting on his sexual attraction to Sabina, now studying to become a psychologist. Not that her daddy issues have been resolved, and she still likes to be spanked, but she puts a troubling question in Jung's thoughts about how much he can be analytical about his behaviour, about anybody's behaviour, when he himself is subject to those whims of his needs and drives. These questioning obsessions eventually, if this is to be believed, leave Jung paralysed with doubt as society spirals towards the chaos of the wars, an open ending of sorts which expands its characters' minds so far that it's too much for them to take. Music by Howard Shore.
Highly regarded Canadian writer/director who frequently combines intellectual concerns with genre subjects. Began directing in the late-70s with a series of gruesome but socially aware horror thrillers, such as Shivers, Rabid and The Brood. 1981's Scanners was Cronenberg's commercial breakthrough, and if the hallucinatory Videodrome was box office flop, it remains one of the finest films of his career. The sombre Stephen King adaptation The Dead Zone and the hugely successful remake of The Fly followed.
The disturbing Dead Ringers (1988) was a watershed film, based for the first time entirely in reality and featuring a career-best performance from Jeremy Irons. The 1990s saw Cronenberg in uncompromising form, adapting a pair of "unfilmable" modern classics - Burrough's Naked Lunch and Ballard's Crash - in typically idiosyncratic style. M. Butterfly was something of a misfire, but eXistenZ surprised many by being fast-moving and funny, while 2002's powerful Spider saw Cronenberg at his most art-house.