A Dangerous Method
The Troubled Roots of Humanist Psychotherapy
Release Date: November 23, 2011
Runtime: 99 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics/Sony Pictures Entertainment
Director: David Cronenberg
Producer: Jeremy Thomas
Writer: None listed
Address Comments To:Michael Barker, Tom Bernard and Marcia Bloom, Co-Presidents
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The movie opens in 1904 in Zurich, Switzerland with Jung, who’s newly married, taking on the case of a distraught female patient, an intelligent medical student from Russia, Sabina Spielrein. Jung starts combining Freud’s method of psychoanalysis with his own method of word association. This brings out the alleged source of the woman’s neurosis. In a nutshell, when she was a child, Sabina’s autocratic father used to spank her with a whip, but she’s developed a guilt complex because she enjoyed the beatings. This has led to bouts of hysteria where Sabina physically begins to tense up and stutter uncontrollably. Jung helps Sabina deal with her emotional problems and her ambivalent feelings toward her father. He starts writing to Freud about her case, and Freud eventually invites Jung to Vienna.
Jung visits Freud and begins an intense, sometimes conflicted professional relationship with his mentor, who’s nearly 20 years older. In return, Freud sends him another mental patient, an iconoclastic psychoanalyst named Otto Gross. Jung has long conversations with Otto, who believes in free love and encourages Jung to act on his growing feelings for Sabina, who has herself become a psychologist. They begin a torrid affair, which includes sadomasochistic spankings, the most lurid and speculative part of the movie.
Meanwhile, Jung’s relationship with Freud begins to unravel as Jung challenges Freud’s theories. He tells Freud that the source of people’s psychology is spiritual as much as sexual, if not more so. (Jung means that in a broad sense, not necessarily in a Christian one, though he himself was raised a Protestant.)
Eventually, Jung decides to break off his affair with Sabina, but his decision haunts him. He begins an intense period of self-analysis on the dawn of the coming conflagration that is World War I, a European conflagration that Jung predicted. An epilogue at the end of the movie relates the history of what happened to Jung, Freud, and Sabina in their remaining years after the war.
A DANGEROUS METHOD is a rather cold, clinical movie, especially considering the tremendous impact these four people, including Otto Gross, had on the world. The movie betrays no strong point of view about its characters, negative or positive, so the purpose for making it is unclear. Even so, its silence regarding the immoral behavior of the characters, including the anti-biblical pagan hedonism expressed by the Otto Gross character, can be taken for at least partial acquiescence.
While some of its scenes are pure speculation and even sensationalistic, and much is left out, the story is based on fact. Jung and Freud did indeed have both a personal and professional falling out that became somewhat bitter. Also, Jung did indeed cheat on his wife with Sabina and tried to hide that fact from Freud, who became friends with Sabina himself. In fact, after Jung and Sabina had their falling out, Jung took up with another patient, who remained his illicit lover for decades until, according to some sources, she lost her looks. Also, Jung’s wife eventually agreed, reluctantly, to let him carry on that affair, even though they had five children together and remained married until she died in 1955. The movie doesn’t go into any details here, however.
Ultimately, A DANGEROUS METHOD is a failure, despite the professional acting and cinematography. It simplifies the ideological conflicts between Freud and Jung. Also, its more speculative, lurid aspects are excessive and unconfirmed.
However, a debt of gratitude may be rendered to A DANGEROUS METHOD, because it reveals the abhorrent moral failings of these historical figures. At best, Freud (whose mother was his father’s third wife) was amoral, and Jung was ethically inconsistent. Interestingly, the movie doesn’t mention one of Jung’s personal allegations against Freud that Freud had an affair with his wife’s younger sister.
Note: A good article on Freud versus Christianity from a Catholic viewpoint is “Christianity According to Freud” by Dr. Pravin Thevathasan, http://www.theotokos.org.uk/pages/churpsyc/freud.html. An interesting but incomplete psychological analysis of Jung’s treatment of, and its relationship to their own personal psychological makeup, is “Comments on the Burghölzli Hospital Records of Sabina Spielrein” by Coline Covington, Journal of Analystical Psychology, 2001, 46, 105-116, http://psychoanalyse.narod.ru/english/Covington.pdf.
A DANGEROUS METHOD is a rather cold movie, especially considering the tremendous impact these four people had on the world. The movie betrays no strong viewpoint about its characters, so the purpose for making it is unclear. While some scenes are pure speculation and even sensationalistic, the story is based on fact and reveals sordid details about these celebrities. Ultimately, A DANGEROUS METHOD is a failure, despite the professional acting and cinematography. It simplifies the ideological conflicts between Freud and Jung. Also, its more speculative, lurid aspects are excessive and uncorroborated.