David Cronenberg’s latest offers an engrossing dissection of the three-way relationship which changed the history of psychiatry. In the first decade of the 20th century the new discipline of the ‘talking cure’ was far from established, putting special onus on key practitioners to set the agenda – and Christopher Hampton’s screenplay suggests Freud and Jung had psychological issues just as taxing as their patients.
Viggo Mortensen’s astute portrayal of the former reveals his sex-obsession, egomania and determinism, while Michael Fassbender’s Jung, by contrast, is intellectually curious to a foolhardy degree, yet so repressed it’s obvious his volatile desires will explode at some point.
Fassbender is pitch-perfect here, yet the film’s surprise is Keira Knightley, touching as Sabina Spielrein, the anguished patient-cum-student with whom Jung’s yearnings achieve sometimes perverse fruition. As a Cronenberg film it’s untypical, yet both thought-provoking and sensual in the way it uncovers the connections between intellectual progress and emotional boundaries. (Notes by Trevor Johnston.)