Movie: A Dangerous Method (2011)

DangerousMethodIt’s not clear whether the title refers to the method of Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), Karl Jung (Michael Fassbender) or Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley).  Frankly, they all seem pretty dangerous to me.  But then I’ve been analyzed by both Freudians and Jungians.

Even before Jung met Freud in person, he had a really crazy patient named Sabina Spielrein, a young Jewess with a lot of problems around sex, mostly due to her father’s “discipline.”  Jung was working in a sanitarium, and she was an in-patient that he agreed to treat with what he called “talking therapy,” which was basically his understanding of Freudian analysis.  Knightley does a brilliant job portraying this neurotic young woman, right down to the jutting jaw and flailing arms.  If you’ve ever visited a psychiatric hospital, or if you’ve ever seen someone in the throws of amphetamine addiction, you’ll know she has the small details down pat.

But as Spielrein begins to recover, she tells Jung she wants to become a doctor, a psychoanalyst.  And after the intervention of another patient, a cocaine-addicted doctor, she decides to seduce Jung.  Jung is married, his wife is pregnant, and he’s a pretty conventional Christian.  Still, he succumbs to temptation.  And when he tries to break off the relationship, Spielrein starts sending anonymous letters and generally making a huge nuisance of herself.

The film is almost as much about the relationship between Freud and Jung as it is between Jung and Spielrein.  Much of this has been written about extensively, especially the fact that the relationship had much of the elements of a father/son relation, complete with the inevitable growing away from Papa.  And perhaps a taste of Papa’s authoritarianism.  At one point they are on a cruise ship to America when Jung tells Freud about a dream he had which seems to suggest a tension between them in the father/son style.  Then Jung asks Freud if he has a dream to relate.  Freud says he has had a dream, but that he will not tell it, as it would be inappropriate.  I couldn’t help wondering whether he was also feeling the tension between them.

I liked this film for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is my interest in the historical characters involved.  But some of it is just really, really good acting and film making.

Statements in this review do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.