David Cronenberg is regarded as the king of "body horror", but it would be a mistake to think that the focus of his films was always purely corporeal. In his latest film, A Dangerous Method, he goes straight for the brain.
Working from Christopher Hampton's play The Talking Cure, Cronenberg charts the changing relationship between up-and-coming psychoanalyst Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortenson), and masochistic Russian Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) – who goes from patient to lover to child psychologist – in what the director calls an "intellectual menage à trois with sexual overtones".
With its themes of sexual repression and liberation, and the dangers and pleasures of letting go, the film echoes Cronenberg's work as far back as 1975's Shivers. A Dangerous Method doesn't, however, indulge in bodily fluids (apart from a lingering close-up of post-coital blood after Spielrein loses her virginity). Betraying its stage origins, this is a film very much rooted in dialogue.
Visually, it is lush and handsomely mounted, while Knightley surprises by throwing caution to the wind as the hysterical beauty whose beatings by her father as a child have left her with a penchant for being spanked. Fassbender notches up another intriguing performance as a man whose moral compass and optimism shift as he gives in to his urges, while Mortenson brings gravitas and wisdom to Freud.
Originally published in The Scotsman