Art of Psychiatry Society

Shame and A Dangerous Method reviews
April 16, 2012, 6:19 pm
Filed under: Film

Michael Fassbender seems to have a thing about sex.  First he appears as Brandon in Shame, Steve McQueen’s unflinching examination of disturbed sexuality and damaged relationships, and then he plays a repressed, sado-masochistic Carl Jung spanking a gasping and grimacing Keira Knightley in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, which purports to explore the origins of psychoanalysis and the relationship between Jung and an omniscient, perpetually cigar-puffing, paternalistic Viggo Mortensen as Freud.

The former is by far the more successful film.  I went with some reluctance, having read reviews that it was about ‘sex addiction’.   In the event, it was a sensitive treatment of two broken individuals, a brother and sister (borderline personality disorder played to perfection by Carey Mulligan).  Brandon acts out his internal bleakness through compulsive sexual acts both with himself and others, ultimately resorting to homosexual and orgiastic sex in self-flagellating desperation.  The sex and nudity are unadorned and in the Greek sense of the word, pathetic.  Eros is conspicuously absent, and when Brandon is offered the opportunity of a consensual, adult sexual relationship, he backs out in confusion and, true to the film’s title, shame.

There are no easy solutions, and no comforting explanations as to why the brother and sister ended up this way, though there are hints of significant childhood traumas, and it is hard to escape the conclusion that Brandon and his sister were subject to extensive sexual and emotional abuse in childhood.  All in all, it was a moving and accurate portrayal of psychopathology which was all too familiar.

‘A Dangerous Method’, co-written by Christopher (‘Dangerous Liaisons’) Hampton and based on his stage play, was not so much dangerous as dull.  After a melodramatic start, in which Keira Knightley as Sabina Speilrein is forcefully carried, rigid and screaming, into a mental institution, where she is ‘cured’ by Herr Doctor’s Jung’s painstaking talking treatment, it rapidly dwindles into a cross between an inaccurate bio-pic and soft porn.

The film follows with breathless fascination, not necessarily shared by the viewer, the affair between Jung and his ex-patient, and the gentle but beautiful suffering of his gentle but beautiful wife.  For good measure there are technically laboured conversations between Jung and Freud about the importance of various precepts central to their new method of treatment, which Freud has decided to call psychoanalysis, which bear as much resemblance to real clinical discussions as Dumbo does to a real elephant.

It did, however, feature lots of big psychiatry names in bit parts such as Eugen Bleuler (‘do have a go with your new treatment, Dr Jung, because my methods have failed’ – I may have misquoted a tad) and Ernest Jones, whose appearances would have significance for almost nobody apart from psychiatrists of a certain vintage.  The lovely Vincent Cassel was a deliciously reprobate Otto Gross, and the cast list told us that we also caught a glimpse of the young Anna Freud, though I had no idea which one was her amongst the many Freudlets gathered round a dinner table.

To resume:  Shame – compulsory viewing for all practising clinicians; A Dangerous Method – I’d prefer to take the medication.

by Dr Abby Seltzer

Picture credit: Momentum films

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You forgot Michael Fassbender’s turn in Fish Tank when he has drunken sofa sex with his girlfriends’s daughter then leaves in… shame and returns to his wife.

Comment by Mark Saxton

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