A Dangerous Method (2011) is a British historical drama that narrates the story of the complicated relations of the two fathers of the psychoanalysts Carl Gustav Jung and Sigmund Freud, and one patient they both consulted, Sabina Spielrein. The movie is based on the stage play The Talking Cure (2002) by Christopher Hampton and the non-fiction book A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein (1993) by John Kerr. The movie is directed by David Cronenberg and is marked with a constellation of famous actors including Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud, Keira Knightley as Sabina Spielrein, Michael Fassbender as Carl Gustav Jung and Vincent Cassel as Otto Gross. The movie has been filmed on various locations, mainly in Germany and Austria.
The story underlies true events and covers the period 1906-1913, which has been marked as the birth of psychoanalytical theory in psychology, as a result of Carl Jung’s influence on the work of Sigmund Freud. The movie’s main plot line however is not scientific but romantic. It evolves around the relations of Carl Jung as a young and promising Swiss therapist and a hysterical neurotic patient Sabina Spielrein, who belongs to a family of Russian Jews. While the names of Freud and Jung have been long well-known and respected as important figures in twentieth century psychology, and their theories are still much debated, Sabina Spielrein’s name had previously been unknown to the general public. However, the woman was apparently a notable Russian psychologist of the post World War I period, one of the pioneers of Soviet Psychology, who was eventually broken by the regime and executed with her whole family by a German SS Death Squad during World War II.
The plot of the movie is heavily based on the correspondence that Sabina Spielrein had with both Freud and Jung, as well as on her personal journals and hospital records at the time when she was a patient of Jung and then Freud. The director David Cronenberg shows how Sabina had influenced both the development of psychoanalysis (with her then famous conception of the sexual drive as containing both an instinct of destruction and an instinct of transformation, presented to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society in 1912, which is by the way often ignored or given very little attention nowadays), and the role she played in the complicated relationship of two brilliant minds – Jung and Freud.
As shown in the movie, Sabina seemed to play a significant role in the misunderstandings between the two psychiatrists, which later caused Jung to create a separate theory and psychological stream (analytical psychology), while Freud remained the founder of psychoanalysis. Apparently, as shown in the movie, it was Freud’s censure of the indecent affair that Jung had with his ex-patient while still being married that set sparks to the conflict between the two scientists. Whether or not Sabina played a significant role in the relationship of Jung and Freud, is of course, highly debatable. But the perspective shown in the movie provides a new side to the story of their relations and gives plenty of food for thought.
Despite the fact that the movie might seem like a rather boring historical drama about how a couple of scientists worked on their later-to-become sensational theory of psychoanalysis, A Dangerous Method turned out to be quite an engaging and intriguing motion picture that is not exclusively aimed at an audience highly adept in psychology and its schools of thought. The director successfully plays with the brilliant material available and the actors are exceptionally prudent in portraying the evolution of their characters’ personalities. I find Keira Knightley’s performance particularly notable. The actress has unquestionably, accurately and believably acted as a sick sociopath, a wicked lover, a vulnerable victim of her childhood traumas and a brilliant scholar. The movie A Dangerous Method will be an interesting pastime option for those who are not looking for action and thrills but rather deep drama, romance and an emotional experience. The performance of the main actors will help everyone keenly feel every inner and interpersonal conflict, of which there will be plenty on the screen. It only stands to reason that the picture has been nominated for Golden Globe and has won several other respected awards.
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