A Dangerous Method

A review - by Shlomoh Sherman
February 5, 2012

Director: David Cronenberg
Writers: Christopher Hampton (screenplay), John Kerr (book)
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley and Viggo Mortensen
Plot Keywords: Psychoanalysis - Jung - Carl Jung - Freud
Genres: Biography | Drama | Thriller
Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)- Rated R for sexual content and brief language
Release Date: September 3, 2011 (USA)
Filming Locations: Bodensee, Bavaria, Germany
Company Credits: Recorded Picture Company (RPC), Lago Film, Prospero Pictures
Runtime: 99 min
Taglines: Why the "talking cure" can be dangerous
Quotes: Sabina Spielrein: [to Jung] I want you to punish me.
Trivia: According to Keira Knightley, at first she didn't know how to play her character's hysteria. When she read some of Spielrein's notes she noticed the woman described her condition as being like "a demon or a dog". Knightley then started to pull faces and contacted David Cronenberg through Skype to show him the results until they both agreed on one.
Christoph Waltz was initially cast as Freud, but dropped out in favor of Water for Elephants. Had he stayed, it would have been his second collaboration with Michael Fassbender since their work on Inglourious Basterds. Christian Bale was also considered for the role.
David Cronenberg's third film with Viggo Mortensen.
Plot: A look at how the intense relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud gives birth to psychoanalysis.
On the eve of World War I, Zurich and Vienna are the setting for a dark tale of sexual and intellectual discovery. Drawn from true-life events, A DANGEROUS METHOD explores the turbulent relationships between fledgling psychiatrist Carl Jung, his mentor Sigmund Freud and Sabina Spielrein, the beautiful but disturbed young woman who comes between them. Sensuality, ambition and deceit set the scene for the pivotal moment when Jung, Freud and Sabina come together and split apart, forever changing the face of modern thought. Nominations: Nominated for Golden Globe, another 5 wins and 15 nominations

I went to see this movie because I am enamored by psychoanalysis and because Freud has always been one of my Jewish heroes. I also wanted to meet up with the Cleveland Independent Movie Goers whose group I recently joined. Both the movie and the dinner discussion about it were worth the time and money.

I've been intrigued by the figure of Sigmund Freud ever since I learned about pyschoanalysis as a teenager. Of course, back then, in the 1950s, analysis was coming into its own, and I through my teens and twenties, I read as many books about the analytic method that I could. But I also read about the history of the method and its practicianers.

Sigmund Freud [whose Hebrew name was the same as mine] lived and worked in one of the most antisemtic cities in Europe, one in which he had to flee when Hitler took over Austria.
Freud was descended form a prominent rabbinic family and in his later life he publicly showed pride in his Jerwish origins. But alas, he was a product of his time in that he allowed himself to be somewhat intimidated by the atmospher of antipathy to Jews in which he lived. This is subtlely [not so subtlely according to other Cleveland Independent Movie Goers] brought out in the film. Because of this, Freud was happy to meet and gain Carl Jung as a disciple. All of Freud's collegues/disciples up to that time had been Jews. Not wanting gentiles to look upon psychoanalysis as a "Jewish Science" [which it actually is], he lloked to Jung to be the method's Catholic spokesman to the world.
So long as Jung accepted Freud's interpretations of emotional dysfunction, both men got along fine and even developed a mutual affection. But when Jung began to draw mystical and non-empirical elements into his view of the human subconscious [unconscious?], both doctors grew apart, at first professionally and ultimately emotionally. Freud would not brook Jung's empirically unprovable notions as part of a medical science, and rightly so. After his separation from his former mentor, Jung went on to develop a somewhat romantic system of beleifs, eventually being accused of being a Nazi fellow traveller. I notice that this has been debated on several websites, including http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/jun/06/carl-jung-freud-nazis .

The film examines the personal and medical interplay between Freud, Jung, Sabina Spielrein, a highly neurotic patient of Jung's [who eventually became his lover and later, a psychoanalyst in her own right], and Otto Gross, a completely unethical, possibly insane, fellow analyst who ultimately influenced Jung to abandon his professional demenor and initiate a sado-masochistic sexual relationship with Spielrein with her own willing cooperation.

I'm used to the Keira Knightley of PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN, NOT her equisite performance as a wildly uber-emotionally, abused analytic patient. Don't be surprised by her at Oscar time.
I've always liked Viggo Mortensen's films, especially HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. His portrayal of Freud is so different from anything I have seen him do that it took me a few minutes to realize I was watching HIM! Understated and forcefull, I can only say kudos to his performance.
Vincent Cassel is new to me. I've only seen him in one other film, BLACK SWAN in which he also plays an unsavory, unsympathetic character. His portrayl of Dr Otto Gross is so over the top that, at one point, some of us actually laughed at his improprieties.

In contrast to this film, I would urge you to see the 1962 film Freud with Montgomery Clift and Larry Parks if you can find a copy. It was one of the last films of both actors and shows a different, somewhat less, harsh view of Freud.

If you have not as yet seen A DANGEROUS METHOD, I urge you to do so since no review can capture its dramatic impact.

After the film, we went to the wonderful Anatolia Turkish Restaurant on Lee Road. This meet was rather large so there were several tables of us. At our table, we discussed several ideas from the film.
In one scene, Jung asks Freud if he really beleives that monotheism arose out of the desire of the sons to kill their fathers and if this reached its apex in Christianity. Freud points out that the pharaoh Amenhotep III, who attempted to establish monotheism in Eygpt, upon ascending the throne, tried to erase the name of his father Thutmosis IV from all the stelae in Egypt whereupon Jung points out that he didn't succeed in obliterating his father's name.

A more interesting discussion revolved around the idea proposed to Freud by Sabina Spielrein that in the sexual act the ego is obliterated and that is why societies have imposed strict laws on sexual behaviors, limiting them to the marital bed where they are necessary to create new life. Freud's reaction to the proposition is to come up with the idea of Thantos, the drive towards death, self-destruction and the return to the inorganic, as an intregal part of the sex drive. Today the idea has been discarded along with much of Freud's theories reagrding sex as the ultimate key to the analytic problems of patients.
Similar to this idea though, I thought, is the idea put forward by the psychologist Harville Hendrix who postulated that the opposite of sexcual passion is harmony, and that when couples achieve romantic harmony, it leads to fights and arguments which cause passion to arise [kissing and making up], and that this is a repeated cycle in relationships.

Euclid, OH
February 5, 2012

Cast overview, first billed only:

Keira Knightley ... Sabina Spielrein
Viggo Mortensen ... Sigmund Freud
Michael Fassbender ...  Carl Jung
Vincent Cassel ... Otto Gross
Sarah Gadon       ... Emma Jung
André Hennicke ... Professor Eugen Bleuler
Arndt Schwering-Sohnrey ... Sandor Ferenczi
Mignon Remé       ... Jung's Secretary
Mareike Carrière ... Food Nurse
Franziska Arndt ... Bath Nurse
Wladimir Matuchin ... Nikolai Spielrein
André Dietz       ... Medical Policeman
Anna Thalbach ... Bathtub Patient
Sarah Marecek ... Orchard Nurse
Bjorn Geske       ... Orderly

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