Adapted for the screen by Christopher Hampton from his own 2002 play The Talking Cure, David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method immerses the viewer in early 20th century Switzerland and Austria during a period of collaboration and conflict between two pioneers of modern psychology, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). As trailblazers in a hugely controversial field, Freud and Jung initially find in the other a brilliant ally: for Freud, Jung is a disciple who ensures that his work and legacy will continue after his death; for Jung, Freud serves as a father-figure who gives him the confidence to confront unexplored areas of intellectual inquiry.
But the arrival of Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a brilliant but acutely disturbed young Russian woman with her own ideas about psychology, arouses alarming new passions in Jung, which in turn lead to the dissolution of his happy working relationship with Freud. Their sexual and romantic pursuits inevitably disrupt their intellectual inquiries about the mind, heart and body, and before long all three thinkers are engaged in an explosive game of personal and ideological warfare.
As World War I looms, casting a larger and larger shadow over the continent as a whole, our protagonists make and break promises, form and destroy alliances, until eventually Freud, Jung and Spielrein the thinkers are indistinguishable from Freud, Jung and Spielrein the complex and irrational human beings. All three figures must attempt to balance their analytical explorations of human mental and sexual behavior with their increasingly chaotic interpersonal passions if they ever hope to move forward with their studies and lives. A Dangerous Method is an investigation of the tension between objectivity and subjectivity, the old and the new, and the mind and the soul, as embodied by these three historically prominent and emotionally compelling pioneers of psychological inquiry.
The film will enjoy a limited released on November 23 by Sony Pictures Classics, and will expand throughout the prestige season. PopMatters will be present a special section of interviews on the film, timed to release, featuring David Cronenberg, Michael Fassbender, Christopher Hampton, Keira Knightley and Viggo Mortensen.