Based on a stage play which was based, in its turn, on a book by John Kerr, A Dangerous Method is about the relationship a young Carl Jung develops with a troubled patient as well as the beginning and break-up of his friendship with Sigmund Freud. Most importantly, the film concerns itself with the events that probably caused the breakdown he suffered during World War I and the battle within himself as his values as a responsible physician clashed with his carnal desires.
The film starts off quite rough. For those who may be frightened by the beginning of the film, I assure you it gets better. Keira Knightley doesn’t spend the entire time talking and dislocating her jaw like this. Even though she keeps the weird accent -she’s supposedly Russian in the film- and irritating way of acting. Knightley’s character, Sabina, is admitted in the hospital where Jung, portrayed by Michael Fassbender, is working. He starts treating her, in the beginning without her cooperation, but soon she starts to get much better.
His approach to her treatment is ‘the talking cure’, a method Sigmund –Viggo Mortensen– Freud has come up whom, the audience soon finds out, Jung greatly admires. The two men first meet in order to discuss matters of their field as well as Sabina’s case and they grow very fond of each other. Jung goes to become Freud’s protégé, whom he trusts with the treatment of another doctor, Otto Gross, a sex and drug addict. So far so good. This first part of the film establishes Jung as a serious and trustworthy professional, as Sabina is transformed, with his help, from a wild animal to calm, eloquent woman. The admiration between the two great psychiatrists also helps render Jung as a man who takes his profession seriously and who has a lot to offer the field.
And then the tables are turned and the film starts getting interesting. As Sabina starts getting better, it becomes clear that Jung has some soul searching to do as well. In the same way that Sabina gets better not by changing her ways but, simply, by accepting them, Jung must accept some difficult truths about himself as well. In fact, the whole film seems to imply that only by bringing our suppressed urges and desires to the surface we can live happy lives. The two characters who seem to serve as catalysts for Jung’s painful discoveries are Sabina and Otto, Vincent Cassel’s character.
On the one hand, Cassel’s character is portrayed as kind of mad, but also as absolutely free from any notion that society engraves on people about what is right and what is wrong. On the other hand, the more Sabina becomes self-assured and, the more Jung discovers his darker side. Sabina becomes a highly respected academic and psychiatrist and is ultimately respected by both the men of the story. While Jung is afraid of what her tales can cause him, she reacts boldly but respectably, never losing face. Paralleling Sabina’s progress is the downfall, in one way or another, of Freud and Jung. While Freud is seen by everyone as outdated and too old to be able to bring something new to the table of psychoanalysis, Jung has to face his own suppressed desires and accept that they are a part of him. While Freud fades away, becomes more closed-minded about the direction psychoanalysis should go towards, Jung discovers he is closer to Otto than he thought, as his initial views on monogamy and the need to suppress sexual desires in order to be considered morally sound are overturned.
The breakdown of Jung, as well as the notion that Freud’s sex-obsessed theories derived from his own rigid views when it came to sex is, probably, the most compelling aspect of the film. When these character arcs are combined with Sabina’s course-the patient who, by the end, has surpassed both the men in terms of peace of mind and, perhaps, career, what you get is a call for men and women to move forward, express themselves freely, with no prejudice. Most importantly, it‘s about the lesson all characters learn that one needs to truly know themselves and, however difficult, free themselves of unnecessary social constraints in order to have a chance at a meaningful life.