AFTER DECADES of making not-so-thinly veiled films about psychosexual horrors, David Cronenberg's ditched the allegory and gone right to the source: A Dangerous Method is about bickering buddies Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, as well as the notably less notorious Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), who starts off as one of Jung's yelping, yowling, perved-out patients before ending up, if not a peer, someone who certainly has her shit together a lot more than either of these weird old dudes.
At first, Knightley's presence in the film is more or less terrible; she screeches and contorts and giggles like a Pirates of the Caribbean star who's caught a whiff of an Oscar. Ostensibly, Spielrein is psychologically damaged—in desperate need of Jung's then-radical psychiatric care—but mostly she just makes everyone, including everyone in the audience, super uncomfortable. Once Knightley calms the hell down, we're left with a pretty okay movie about two screwed-up old dudes with cigars and ideas.
It's in Freud and Jung's theories that A Dangerous Method has its most appeal; when it comes to drama, we mostly just see that Freud (Viggo Mortensen) is grumpy and arrogant, Jung (Michael Fassbender) is selfish and arrogant, and Spielrein—who ends up having a spank-filled affair with Jung—does the best she can as someone who has the misfortune to be mentally ill, in love, and a woman in the earliest years of the 20th century. As Jung grows more mystical, Freud grows more harrumph-y, and Spielrein comes into her own, everything plays out more or less as you'd expect. Thank god that every once in a while, one of these three says something that still cuts to the core of why we broken, fucked-up humans act and feel the way we do. A century later, the ideas at the core of Cronenberg's too-austere film still feel sharp, still feel dangerous.