REVIEWED BY: Laurence Boyce
RELEASED: February 10 2012
Based on the play The Talking Cure, which gives an account of the relationship between Freud and Jung, David Cronenberg’s latest is a curious mix of psychosexual melodrama and treatise on the origins of psychoanalysis.
In 1904, Russian-born Sabina Spielrei is admitted to a Swiss mental hospital under the care of Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), who is eager to try the new ‘talking cure’ expounded by Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). As they explore her formative sexual experiences, Speilrei (Keira Knightley) becomes increasingly confident and soon decides to head into medicine herself. With Freud’s theories seemingly vindicated, Jung and his newfound mentor Freud prepare to introduce the world to psychoanalysis. But when it becomes clear that Jung is having a sexual relationship with Speilrei, Freud begins to move away from his student.
While there are undoubtedly some great performances from the three leads—especially from Fassbender, who manages to make Jung a strange yet compelling mixture of charisma and shyness—there are large swathes of exposition that come across as more textbook material than drama. The emotion at the core of the film seems rather flat, even amidst some torrid sex scenes between Jung and Speilrei, whilst the schism between Freud and Jung comes across as a mere mild quarrel.
Although there are undoubtedly some intriguing ideas at play here, the film never breaks free of its theatrical origins and is, ultimately, rather unsatisfying.