Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Dangerous Method: A Look at Jung’s Perhaps-Not-So-Dangerous World

Hello all! Once again, I’ve fallen behind on updating this post, largely from working too much followed by quickly doing too many arts and entertainment-related things to have time to write about them! I’m hoping to catch you all up shortly on what’s been going on A&E wise (because work-wise would just be dull J). To that end, here’s the first of several overdue posts, this one about the 2011 film, A Dangerous Mind, starring Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, and Viggo Mortensen.

Set in the early 1900s, A Dangerous Method begins with a relatively young C.G. Jung (Fassbender) studying Sabina Spielrein (Knightley), a patient suffering from hysteria. Over time, Jung and Sabina move from the doctor-patient relationship to that of lovers. Already a relationship set up for disaster, it is further taut by Jung’s marriage with children on the way and Spielrein’s sporadic healing and studying to become a psychiatrist herself but not necessarily always embracing Jung’s methods.

Concurrent with all this drama, Jung is also developing – and struggling in – a relationship with renown psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (Mortensen). Freud clearly wants to pass the mantle down to the younger doctor, but Jung does not buy all the emphasis Freud puts on sexuality as the base of so many psychological problems. Freud, meanwhile, begins to mistrust Jung’s interest in mysticism.

Some time back, I had seen one trailer for A Dangerous Method, didn’t think much of it either way, and then never heard anything about it again. That is, until on a recent flight home from vacation when it was an option to watch. There wasn’t anything else that sounded even remotely appealing on the plane’s menu, and the psychological aspect of this film intrigued me, having once been a psychology major.

That being said, I was a bit disappointed with the film from a psychological angle. The story between Freud and Jung did seem to be grounded in fact (i.e., Jung was indeed doubtful about Freud’s obsession with the sexual aspects of psychoanalysis and was critical of Freud for refusing to ever be analyzed himself), and I noted somewhere in the credits that the film referenced actual letters between the psychoanalysts where possible. In addition, the film is based on a play, which is in turn based on a nonfiction book, so somebody did their homework somewhere along the line. I knew nothing about Sabina before this film, despite having studied about both Freud and Jung in numerous classes, so her character was a welcome introduction, which allows me to do some more research on her on my own. However, I felt like the movie did not explain her psychological problems in depth and very much glossed over her (somewhat spotty) recovery. This included quickly brushing over Jung’s psychoanalytic methods, which had seemed to me to be at the heart of the film’s premise as I understood it going into the movie (not so much, it would appear).

Part of this may be due to the disjointed nature of the film. Frequently, several years would pass by from one scene to the next. I found this very disorienting, particularly with a character like Sabina who could go from stark raving mad in one scene to a perfectly polished young lady in the next. (It is possible that some of this may be due to the airline’s formatting and editing of the film, although I should point out I watched Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows on the same airline a week earlier and didn’t note any appreciable differences between the airline’s version and the one I had seen in theaters. Also, I doubt the airline would remove any substantive scenes, although it is possible that they removed/limited some of the sex scenes from this particular title.) These jumps made it difficult to really ever feel like the movie was telling a logical story or for me as the viewer to become fully immersed in the story. That is not to say that I didn’t find the movie engrossing, it’s just that it never took away the feeling that this was a movie. Does that make sense? What I’m trying to say is that the movie was indeed riveting, but it didn’t sweep me up so fully in its world that I forgot I was watching something purposely built up to be viewed by outsiders, namely moviegoers.

It is also possible that other viewers got the exact opposite feeling – perhaps there was too much psychoanalytic history and terminology for a lay audience. (One reviewer refers to it as being full of “shop talk.”) Having studied psychology in an academic setting for more than four years and on my own for even longer, I can’t really say at this point. To me, it could have delved much further into the psychoanalytic methods used by Freud and Jung, but then again, I could see how this could alienate many viewers.

The movie ended on a peculiar note, which is about as much as I’m going to say on that so I don’t give anything away. I felt very much like I have at the end of some other quirky, independent movies (i.e., Lost in Translation) where I’m not really sure what to make of the ending or indeed anything that came before it. As I alluded to earlier, there wasn’t really an overarching story throughout that would culminate in a conclusion of some sort, so it just sort of felt more like it ended because two hours had passed. Like with many biopic or historical films, the viewer is given a brief synopsis of what happened to these characters later in life. Sabina’s life story ended so tragically as to leave a distinctly odd and futile feeling to the whole film.

A high note of the film was the superb acting by all, but particularly by Fassbender and Knightley. I’ve yet to see Fassbender disappoint in any role, and he plays the complicated Jung well and with nuance. Knightley throws her all into playing the insanity stricken young Sabina and then transforms perfectly into the studious, well-mannered older Sabina. Her Russian accent is perhaps not pitch perfect, but it suffices (and is more than either Fassbender or Mortensen put into their roles, as oddly enough they both do not attempt at an accent). The settings were sumptuous, the score is haunting and an absolutely perfect fit, and the cinematography was excellent. But none of this makes up for a plot that felt a bit watery. I might recommend A Dangerous Method to a handful of people that I think would enjoy this type of movie more than most, but I’m not leaping over the moon about it. I'm still kind of scratching my head about it, trying to figure out what to make of the film.

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