If any universal question can be derived from “Psychoanalysis,” it’s “Why are we the way we are?” Sigmund Freud, played calmingly by Viggo Mortensen, believed that human motivation is derived from our sex drive; a theory that Freud’s confidant, Carl Jung, played wonderfully by Michael Fassbender, tried so hardly to repress, until he met his new patient, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). Still unconvinced that Freud’s statement is true, Jung learns more about himself as his involvement with Sabina evolves beyond a professional relationship into a harrowing affair.

Ironically enough, despite the manipulative, masochistic, and sadist nature of three of the four main characters, there’s a lot more than sex that drives the plot. The film subtly plays off of the delicate nature of the human condition and the importance of self-discovery. More or less about bottling up deep dark secrets we discover about ourselves because we’re ashamed to accept them as part of our personality. At a time when cognitive therapy was an experimental treatment, how could a psychologist have his personal life figured out, let alone his professional career if his field is still being developed? This is the evolution of Carl Jung.

When we’re first introduced to Carl Jung, it’s implied he’s a hardworking professional. He’s trying to advance the movement of Psychoanalysis, and start a family. He is the central character, despite Sigmund Freud being the more popular person in a historical context. This seems to work having the young, impressionable Carl Jung as our protagonist, instead of the celibate and pompous Sigmund Freud. Without this, the film wouldn’t be half as interesting because it’s as if subconsciously the audience (or at least I) could relate to the flawed character of Carl Jung. The lure of giving into temptations we never thought existed is a hard one to resist.

David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method is more than the logline leads us to believe: “A look at how the intense relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud gives birth to psychoanalysis.” This is only half right. The film lacks the critical focus on Freud and Jung’s relationship and instead centers on how Jung’s actions and personality is influenced by the relationships he chooses to have. Between his wife, Otto Gross (another patient played by Vincent Cassel), Freud, and Sabina, Jung is conflicted with his duty in life.  Freud represents the person Jung would like to be, whereas Otto represents the part of his personality he’s trying to cover up: a sexual deviant.

Understanding that this is a character study that forces an unnecessary plot in order to stay true to history is the best way to view this film. Not much was learned about psychoanalysis when all is said and done, and I don’t feel I learned much more about Freud and Jung’s relationship than I already didn’t know having taken a psychology class in college. However, leaving the theater knowing that the beautiful cinematography was just an added bonus to a film that had characters so fully developed and layered, you could have sworn you knew them in a past life, is worth the price of admission.