As a long admirer of David Cronenberg, I eagerly await each of his new films as if I am a young child on Christmas Eve. When announced that his new film, A Dangerous Method, had him working with Michael Fassbender and (for a third time) Viggo Mortensen, two of my favorite actors, as well as Keira Knightley and Vincent Cassel, I thought I must have been dreaming. Adding on that the film was going to be an exploration into the relationship between Carl Jung (portrayed by Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Mortensen), the gods of psychoanalysis, and this had the makings for Cronenberg's masterpiece. So one can only begin to imagine my dismay when, after a promising first act, A Dangerous Method turned out to be the most inordinately tame and pedestrian Cronenberg film in over thirty years.
David Cronenberg made a name for himself in the film community thanks to his studies into dark, controversial topics of sexual obsessions and fetishes, so a story depicting the works of Jung and Freud seemed like a perfect fit for him, and I was hardly able to process how lazily he approached the minds of these men. The first act felt like punch after punch (in a good way), with very stern, rapid dialogues detailing the sexual desires of Sabina Spielrein (Knightley), a new patient of Jung's. Despite Knightley's hilariously hammy performance, which had me close to fits of laughter every time she unhinged her jaw or thrashed about the room hysterically, each scene sizzled with sexual tension and was nailed with precision by Fassbender's stoic portrayal.
Anyone who knows the history of the story (or has seen the trailer) knows that Jung and Spielrein eventually engage in a sexual relationship of their own and I believe the release of this tension between the two of them is where the film starts to fall of it's axis. After the incredibly intense and erotic first act, featuring a scene where Jung runs a test on his wife (Sarah Gadon) that is as gripping as anything in cinema this past year, the whole thing begins to fizzle out when that tension is released and it only becomes more and more flat as it goes on.
Whenever Jung and Freud are in the same room together the film begins to light back up, as Fassbender and Mortensen engage in a tete-a-tete for the ages, both men succumbed by their intelligence and arrogance to the point where they refuse to see the other as their equal despite their claims to be doing just that. Watching these two marvelously talented actors bounce of each other, it's devastating that the rest of the film couldn't measure up to their skill, and that half of their scenes interacting together are done through them opening notes from one another. The story spreads it's time (quite distractingly) between the Jung/Freud dynamic and the Jung/Spielrein one, and it's in the latter that it completely misses the mark.
Once that sexual tension is released, the chemistry between these two practically ceases to exist and each scene feels like a dull exercise in the standard infidelity plot line. When the film reaches it's final act and there are scenes of forced attempts at emotional payoffs, it's impossible to feel anything because I wasn't able to feel anything from the relationship the entire time leading up to it. There's no real progression in their relationship on anything but a surface level and as a result the payoff falls completely flat.
It certainly doesn't help that, for all of the controversial eroticism in his career past, Cronenberg takes on the carnal moments of this story with the lazy banality of someone much inferior to himself. Several of the dialogue-driven scenes sizzle with a sexual intensity, but when matters are actually taken to the bedroom they are hit with a dullness that would be impossible to believe came from Cronenberg if he didn't have his name stamped on it. In a year that gave us Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In, the most Cronenbergian film I've seen that didn't come from the man himself, it's unbelievably disappointing that this one is so removed from the standard this genius deserves. It's unlike anything he's done before, and I mean that in the worst way possible.