Freud and Jung’s Hunky Hollywood Iterations are Gluttons for Keira Knightly’s Punishment

All-star therapist drama could use a good head-shrinking

22 Freud and Jung’s Hunky Hollywood Iterations are Gluttons for Keira Knightly’s Punishment

Mortenson as Frued.

An antiseptic departure for shock jock David Cronenberg, A Dangerous Method is a psychological tug of war between the father of modern psychiatry, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortenson), and his disciple Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) over the mind and sex of an overwrought mental patient named Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a mad Russian with a craving for spanking. Whacking her on her naked bottom must have worked. She ended up, years later, analyzing patients of her own. Too bad she didn’t also analyze this movie. It would have saved so much wasted time.

A grim 1912 period piece set in a mental clinic in Vienna at the dawn of 20th century enlightenment, the movie flirts with the peculiar relationship between novice Jung and mentor Freud while they both flirt with the same patient, but aside from Ms. Knightley’s lurid whupping without her panties on, nothing ever happens. The “dangerous method” in the title refers to the experiment by both analysts to radically treat the same female patient by taking her to bed. Not very scientific, but very, very talky. The textbook talk is more layered than the plot. The two doctors discuss their opposing theories in such a drawn-out series of academic letters between Austria and Switzerland that by the time they’re finished, the patient has developed an abstract hypothesis of her own. By the time they get around to testing their primal interest in Sabina between the uncomfortable-looking starched cotton sheets, they (as well as esteemed screenwriter Christopher Hampton) might be unhinged to discover their audience is snoring. Mr. Hampton adapted the script from his own stage play The Talking Cure, and it shows. Veteran Polish cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, who shoots all of Mr. Cronenberg’s films, gives everything the refined sheen of polyurethaned mahogany.

Considering herself vile, filthy and corrupt because she lusts for humiliation, Sabina listens to the inner voices of angels, then shrieks, shakes and stutters her way into a nervous fit while she squishes her food between her fingers in what I assume Ms. Knightley considers great acting. At this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, everyone was twittering furiously about her titillating spanking scenes, but they hardly made up for the huge lapses of tedium between smacks. As Freud, who believes the basis of all insanity is sexual repression, and Jung, who is monogamous and resistant to such extremist views, the miscast male stars are bland as dust and look like a box of Smith Brothers cough drops.

In his two previous collaborations with Mr. Cronenberg, Mr. Mortenson’s full-frontal wrestling scene in Eastern Promises and twisted gang killer-turned-suburbanite in A History of Violence offered more challenges than anything in the buttoned-up role of Freud, and after Mr. Fassbender’s brutally punishing role as IRA hunger-strike-martyr Bobby Sands in Hunger and his rollicking nudity as a sex addict in Shame, I can’t imagine what attracted these two megahunks to such a bore.


Running Time 93 minutes

WRITTEN BY Christopher Hampton

DIRECTED BY David Cronenberg

STARRING Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley and Viggo Mortensen



  1. Anonymous says:

    Did you actually watch this? You’re getting some pretty basic things wrong in your summary.
    Enough that I suspect you probably didn’t or maybe slept through most of it.
    Which would be fair enough but just making things up to compensate is rather silly.

  2. Cinephile says:

    To call Cronenberg a “shock jock” by shorthand is reductive and derivative, and to characterize Fassbender’s performance in Shame as “rollicking nudity” is plainly laughable — but then again I have come to expect nothing more from Mr Reed. Sir, you are not funny. You are not clever. Your “ironic” and dismissive way of erroneously characterizing key plot points — and in this case, the very title of the film itself — do not make you appear witty; the only purpose they accomplish is to paint you as someone who is by turns intellectually lazy and grossly misinformed, and always grasping at straws for aphoristic aplomb. Perhaps this is not an inaccurate portrait. More often than not, I suspect that you have not seen a single second of the films you are reviewing. Certainly you show no respect for them, nor the people involved in making them, regardless of their objective quality.

    (Fact check: the title of the film, by Christopher Hampton’s own admission, comes from the book A Most Dangerous Method, by John Kerr, from which he drew the inspiration for his play; it doubles as a reference to the so-called “talking cure”, itself viewed at the time as being controversial and revolutionary in a nascent field.

    Fact check: “… while they both flirt with the same patient” — no; there is subtext, and then there is fabrication.

    Fact check: Jung is neither monogamous nor “resistant to such extremist ideas” as Freud’s belief that “the basis of all insanity is sexual repression”; the film did NOT make such reductionist hand-waving generalizations about either of their respective theories.

    I could go on.)

    Why do you write film reviews if you cannot be bothered to actually review them? They are not being made to serve as the canvas upon which you hoist your questionable wit onto an unsuspecting readership. You are not the story. The “creative” ways in which you attempt to insult them is not the story. The FILM is the story.

    And one more thing, sir: the stale bon mots with which you attempt to inject some spark into your writing have passed their expiration date by about a decade already.

  3. Liz says:

    Thank you Cinephile. I was appalled at the inaccuracies myself. Reed spent all of his energy trying to make himself sound clever and in the process, reveals he’s nothing but.

  4. ATTN says:

    URGENT MESSAGE TO THE EDITORS!!!! Someone clearly lacking in knowledge, skill, or journalistic credibility is masquerading as a film reviewer on your website! Please, immediately correct this situation before people really start believing that the immature ramblings and misinformation in these articles are being perpetrated by a paid writer, and not an unscrupulous hacker.

  5. AF Society says:

    Yeah I agree with the previous commenters. The reviewer here, it looks like a rush review job from one who skimmed the movie in between popcorn grabs. Mr. Reed gets some basic things wrong and shows by this review he has absolutely no understanding of either psychoanalysis or its history or basic concepts.

    First, there was no affair between Sabina and Freud.

    Second, Freud did not say the basis of all insanity is sexual repression but that the basis of all neurosis is sexual exposure or overexposure before the individual is ready for it. Get it right, there is a big difference, even despite the fact that we now know Freud wasn’t actually right about this. Freud himself actually abandoned this idea as false later on in his own career.

    A very poorly written review.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Cinephile – it was with huge pleasure that I read your comments on this appallingly slack hatchet job on a film which most here agree the reviewer did not actually see – or if he did, he paid no attention to it. Surely there is some level of integrity asked of those whose reviews are printed and, presumably, paid for.  Yet it seems such integrity is lacking.  Why did Mortensen appear in this movie, in a role in which, by other accounts, he has excelled?  Perhaps because he trusts a great director to know what he is doing, and why he is doing it, which is more than can be said for the hack who wrote this review.
    So thank you, cinephile and others – free speech is one thing; lazy-minded hackery quite another.