A Dangerous MethodA Dangerous Method, a film by David Cronenberg based on the script by Christopher Hampton is exciting from its very first scene in which Keira Knightley portrays the disturbed young Sabina Spielrein. Then over time as her healing begins and the secrets of her sexual perversions are brought to the light of consciousness, she begins to heal and turns her attention to her savior who she falls in love with, Carl Jung played by Michael Fassbinder. Jung treats her as a colleague and this too gives Spielrein hope and guidance as she begins a career in medicine and psychiatry. In the middle of this love affair Jung and Freud, played by Viggo Mortensen, do battle over the direction of the neophyte psychoanalytic movement and Spielrein gets in the middle. This new film by Cronenberg, after his recent successful films “A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises”, explores the relationships between four people, five if you include Jung’s wife Emma who struggles with her husband’s sexual relationship with Sabina Spielrein. There is an oppressiveness felt in this film, in its female characters and their orbit around their men, of a patriarchy whose women are its victims and Spielrein the dramatic response to that oppression. After Jung sees success with his new methods with Spielrein he begins a relationship with Freud first by letter and eventually meeting him a year later in Vienna where the famous 13 hour conversation takes place. This successful case is brought to Freud’s attention by Jung early on in their writings though Freud is not told the identity of the patient. It was as if Spielrein is Jung’s trophy which he brings to lay at Freud’s feet. So begins this relationship trinity with roles from which each will eventually struggle to disengage but will take the form of a serious and irreparable betrayal. Otto Gross (played by Vincent Cassel), a patient of Jung, plays the role of Mephistopheles in the story by telling Jung he should, “…repress nothing” and Jung believes him. Freud plays a bit of a role in this Faustian shadow by virtue of referring Gross to Jung. Spielrein then completes the drama as Gretchen, the spoiled virgin whose life is destroyed by Jung/Faust. But Spielrein does manage to break free and goes on to become a successful psychiatrist and analyst in her own right and eventually moves back to Russia to raise her family and focus her practice on the psychoanalytic treatment of children, a field she began. In fact, she was the analyst to Jean Piaget, the great child psychologist of the 20th century. Cronenberg intended to shock us in this film perhaps because the beginnings of what was to become called psychoanalysis provides such fertile ground for the shocking and irreverent in contrast with the image of an analyst sitting quietly with a patient, just talking. There is much mystery to the lay person of what goes on behind those closed doors. Perhaps the mystery will draw people to the theater but what they are likely to find is a well researched depiction of a story not well known of a few people who were instrumental in getting psychoanalysis off the ground and perhaps nearly crashing it to the ground as well. Jung tries out this new form of treatment on his young female patient. He has been reading about psychoanalysis from Freud’s works. This story, at its very origins, is wrought with a political landscape made up of ambitious men and women and sex scandals, even with some S & M thrown in. In fact, with the upcoming elections it seems the perfect time for psychoanalysis to pull out its own dirty laundry. But is that not where we begin, in the dirt, to find the gold as the alchemists taught us. The S & M by the way is a bit of poetic license for which there is no evidence in any of the documents that have survived that era. The sexual component of the relationship between Jung and Spierein was never explicitly mentioned in the Spielrein letters though one can deduce as much. The film is also about ideas, new ways of thinking about human behavior and the structure of the psyche. There is an excitement around the possibilities of this new thinking, this new approach to understanding man. Kerr’s premise, as depicted in the film, was that the ideas that would evolve in Jung’s work originated in his relationship with Spielrein and the dialogue bears this out. Spielrein suggests that in each of us exists both man and woman. Jung contemplates this and is intrigued by the idea. Later she discusses the archetypal (she does not use the word) opposing nature of life-giving and life-taking forces working at the same time inherent in the act of sex. In one theory she combines mysticism and biology and claims they are connected. Freud dismisses the biology and the mysticism with a narrow prescriptive approach to the unconscious. Jung embraces the mystical in what he perceives as an ever expanding universe of what would later be called the collective unconscious. In a sense Spielrein tried to hold both trains of thought together even as she tried to hold together the men from which they originated, to no avail. In a letter to the great Geneva psychologist Theodor Flournoy , William James wrote of Freud, “…he made on me personally the impression of a man obsessed with fixed ideas. I can make nothing in my own case with his dream theories, and obviously “symbolism” is a most dangerous method.” This statement takes on a layered meaning in the context of the film, “A Dangerous Method”. The dangers are inherent in this new method of therapy which more commonly came to be known, “the talking cure.” Christopher Hampton took some poetic license in the original play which he called The Talking Cure which was based on the book by John Kerr called The Most Dangerous Method. David Cronenberg, dives right into the shocking images of Sabina Spielrein, played brilliantly by Keira Knightly, in which she succumbs to uncontrollable tics and seizures in a display that is difficult to watch. These horrific movements are perfect physical manifestation of the psychological torment this 19 year old girl from Russia was experiencing when she first meets Carl Jung at the Burghölzli clinic in Zurich, Switzerland. There is a scene in the play that I was looking for in the film that did not come. It was at the end when Spielrein, now married and pregnant, visits Jung at his home on Lake Zurich. Spielrein seems strong and determined, her career ahead of her and the promise of a new life. Jung is depressed and haunted by dreams of the destruction and bloodshed of all of Europe. Their roles have been reversed from those that began their relationship. The serene landscape is disquieted by a darkening of the sky and ominous clouds rolling in towards the couple and the play ends. The advancing storm of course could be interpreted as the advancing war or the nervous breakdown that lay ahead for Jung. Perhaps there was simply enough drama and it was not needed. In the film, Jung’s famous last words to Freud (actually written words in real life) were “…and the rest is silence”. But before the silence the tremendous influence each of these people had on each other would be analyzed thoroughly. John Kerr’s book is a thorough analysis of these influences and that of Spielrein whose ideas did not receive the recognition they deserved by the men who seemed to gain the most from them. February will begin our 2 part series of amplifications of the film “A Dangerous Method”. By way of introduction the seminar on February 8th will provide an overview of the film’s historical context and begin discussions of some of the intriguing ideas that emerged and would later be developed by Freud , Jung and Spielrein. Then on March 8 Murray Stein will bring his knowledge and experience to a discussion of the film, its historical significance and its possible influence on the Jungian community. Please join us in an examination of “The Dangerous Method”. Further Reading / viewing: Film My Name was Sabina Spielrein , (2002) Tango Film. Books Christopher Hampton, The Talking Cure Thomas B. Kirsch, The Jungians John Kerr, A Most Dangerous Method John Launer, Sex Versus Survival: The Story of Sabina Spielrein Coline Covington and Barbera Wharton, Sabina Spielrein: Forgotten Pioneer of Psychoanalysis Aldo Carotenuto, A Secret Symmetry
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