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“A Dangerous Method,” reviewed

“A Dangerous Method,” reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at the New Orleans Film Festival.

Here is a director talking about a subject he’s covered many times before in a totally new way. The filmmaker is David Cronenberg and his topic is the mysterious world of sexuality. From “Videodrome” to “Dead Ringers” to “Crash,” Cronenberg has repeatedly returned to the mysteries of the human body and its basest urges. But where those earlier works were all luridly and wonderfully heated; “A Dangerous Method” is cold and dispassionate. The film takes its cues from its subjects, the pioneering psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, who appear to be quite coldly dispassionate themselves. Like Freud and Jung, “A Dangerous Method” approaches sex from a distinctly clinical perspective.

Jung, played by Michael Fassbender, is the focal point. As the film begins he acquires a new patient named Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a young woman prone to uncontrollable physical and verbal outbursts. Using the so-called “talking cure” pioneered by Freud (Viggo Mortenson), Jung uncovers the roots of Sabina’s mania: a combination of childhood abuse and masochistic sexual desires. At the start of their sessions together, Sabina tells Jung (between grunts and moans) “I’m vile and filthy and corrupt. I must never be let out of here.” Two years (and just a few brief scenes) later, though, her condition has improved greatly. Sabina enrolls at a local academy and studies to become a psychiatrist herself while Jung becomes more of her mentor than her psychiatrist (he also becomes more and more attracted to her, forcing him to consider an affair behind the back of his wealthy but uninteresting wife). Meanwhile Jung’s work brings him to Freud’s attention, and the two begin an ongoing dialogue about the nature of their field. The more traditional Freud wants to keep psychoanalysis rooted in science; Jung believes a more free-thinking and possibly supernatural strategy may be required.

Those hoping the triangle between Freud, Jung, and Spielrein might lead Cronenberg down some aggressively kinky paths will be disappointed by “A Dangerous Method” which, a few S&M tinged sex scenes between Fassbender and Knightey aside, is a fiercely reserved look at the nature of sexual desire; the camerawork and the narrative are as immune to wild, florid gestures as Jung and Freud. Cronenberg based his film on a play (and screenplay) by Christopher Hampton, but instead of “opening up” the drama he seems to have closed it off even further; whole sequences are built entirely out of back-and-forth montages of increasingly catty letters sent between Freud and Jung as they grow increasingly disillusioned with each other’s attitude and behavior. The buttoned-up characters and their diagnostic conversations (or one-sided monologues) about topics like “the self-annihilating nature of the sexual act” rarely make for dramatic fireworks; don’t expect a movie full of rat-a-tat therapist-and-patient dialogue a la Tony Soprano and Dr. Melfi. “A Dangerous Method” is much closer to Martin Scorsese’s “The Age of Innocence,” another film about a man bound by the rigors of society to reject his sexual desires on behalf of familial responsibilities. Pulling off that sort of ultra-restrained melodrama is no easy feat, and requires the work of actors capable of conveying characters with inner lives totally separate from the words coming from their mouths. Fortunately, Cronenberg’s cast is beyond capable, they’re exceptional; particularly Mortensen, who nails Freud’s haughty dismissiveness perfectly.

Like its repressed characters, “A Dangerous Method” is often about the things that are left unspoken. Though the film follows the rivalry between Freud and Jung I think Cronenberg isn’t really making a movie about who was ultimately right or wrong, but rather using their squabbles to illustrate the fact that psychoanalysts are just as nuts as the rest of us. Some of us may look more composed than others — not all of us have crazy twins or guns growing out orifices in our chests — but we’ve all got something to hide. The coldest, most dispassionate exteriors often disguise the most wildly emotional souls. Look closely and you’ll see “A Dangerous Method” works exactly the same way. If you see just one movie this year about psychoanalysts writing snippy letters to one another, make it this one.

“A Dangerous Method” opens in limited release on November 23. If you see it, tell us what you think. Leave us a comment or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…