And a Woman Shall Lead Them
The Feminine in A Dangerous Method
By Len Cruz, MD
A Dangerous Method is one of the best psychological film portrayals of the feminine I have seen in a very long time. Knowing many of the historical elements that director David Cronenberg smoothly wove together in a 95 minute film helped me look past the two Titans of 20th century psychology and delight in the figure who was for me the main character, Sabina Spielrein.
I am looking forward to the conference (webinar) led by Dan Ross that is scheduled for February 8th. For registration information visit http://ashevillejungcenter.org/webinars/february-discovering-psychotherapy-dangerous-method/register/
The arc that transports Sabina Spielrein from wounded virgin delivered forcibly to the Burghölzli by uniformed Russian guards to the pregnant Hectate (in all her chthonic, celestial, and maritime glory) sitting on a bench by the fragile Jung, fresh from his break with Freud, depicts so many facets of the feminine that a list may do them justice.
When Sabina arrives at the Burghölzli we discover that the harsh, brutal corporal punishment her father administered had awakened something. The early studies on hysteria posited that sexual abuse and unacknowledged sexual desire was akin to Lethe, the subterranean river that flowed around the cave of Hypnos from which all who drank experienced complete forgetfulness. Sabina’s character is extraordinary in her capacity to first remember, the first achievement of the talking cure and then press on to a healthy integration of the sexual pleasure she first experienced at her father’s hand. Sabina starts out as a ravaged virgin and this image is re-presented in the scene of Jung’s first sexual intercourse with her. But even as she lifts the bloodied sheet and the camera draws back we do not observe a young woman ravaged by her father figure. Instead we are witness to a woman who has taken another step in claiming her full, individuated capacities. It evoked a sense of baptism and Jung the man was an instrument of this baptism into womanhood.
Sabina is also portrayed as a vulnerable waif who cautiously places her trust in Jung. Jung is looking for someone on whom to try his hand at this new talking cure. Rather quickly, Sabina displays her perspicacity in a scene in which Jung is conducting his word association experiment with a pregnant woman whose ambivalence is evident. When she asks if the woman was Jung’s wife (she is), we observe the native gifts and talents that will mature into an analyst whose influence has never been properly acclaimed.
Divine Daughter/Vestal Virgin
Spielrein matures fairly quickly during the film. She is well into her medical career and displaying uncanny abilities in the infant field of psychiatry. Like the Vestal Virgins of Rome, she has respected a chastity that has allowed her to learn the rituals of the psychoanalytic state. And like the Vestal Virgins, she keeps the sacred fires of eros burning in Jung.
There is scene in which Sabina initiates a kiss. Sabina and Jung are discussing her ideas concerning creative destruction and the inherent clash of opposites from which arises something new and creative. Jung admonishes her for being the aggressor.
Jung “It’s generally thought to be the man who should take the initiative.”
Sabina “Don’t you think there is something male in every woman and something female in every man, or should be?.”
What is so striking in this scene is the intimation of many foundational ideas of analytical psychology: transcendent function, conjuctio mysterium, anima, and animus. The scene also suggest the possibility that one woman, shuttered away and later shot by the Nazis, might have been a fount for Jung and later Freud whose concepts of Thanatos may owe a tremendous debt to Sabina according to Cronenberg’s portrayal.
A Completing Woman
Sabina reaches the completion of her training, she presents a paper titled “Destruction as the Cause of Coming Into Being.” Astoundingly original ideas were contained in this article made me wonder if another unnamed giant from Vienna may have been inspired by Sabina. Joseph Schumpeter, the famous mathematical economist credited with popularizing the idea of creative destruction introduced ideas that sound like spin-offs of Spielrein’s ideas. This concept of creative destruction still enjoys considerable cache as evidenced in its frequent appearance in the Republican Presidential Debates in America concerning Mitt Romney’s time at the venture capital firm, Bain Capital. When others have accused him of shuttering American companies in which Bain Capital invested, he defends himself with Schumpeter’s (or should I now say Spielrein’s) ideas of creative destruction. that has recently found its way into the United States’s political discourse concerning Mitt Romney’s venture capital dealings that shuttered certain companies.
Wrathful Feminine (The Furies, Hera, Athena, Kali)
There is a tense period in the film when it appears that Spielrein intends to cause Jung’s destruction. It turns out that Jung has unleashed more than one fury when he discovers that the anonymous letters Freud received about his indiscretions with Spielrein were not authored by his mistress but by his wife Emma who apparently write to Spielrein’s mother and perhaps others in Vienna. Spielrein does strike out and cut Jung’s face, but her temperance dignifies her even more and begins to establish the strength of this character in the film. I cite the Erinyes (Furies), because Spielrein appears to threaten to unleash a severe vengence upon Jung and the whole psychoanalytic movement. Recall that the infernal goddesses were chthonic deities whose vengence was unleashed upon those who swear a false oath. How fitting that this figure of the feminine should menace the great pioneers of depth psychology. I call upon Hera for the wrath she displayed whenever she discovers Zeus’ infidelities. How like Hera Spielrein desires to be and Emma appears to be. I invoke the image of Athena because of her fiery warrior eruption from the head of Zeus. Spielrein, like Athena, comes to life within the container of Jung’s intellectual interests but must emerge fully formed by breaking out that same container. Is there a woman who strives in the patriarchal realms who cannot identify with the goddess of just warfare? Athena had no consorts and is also called Athena Parthenos. Towards the end of the film, when pregnant Spielrein reappears with barely the mention of a husband, Athena Parthenos, somehow comes through as having had no consort. This woman’s fertility has transcended the need for the man’s sperm.
There is gentleness in Spielrein’s attentions to Jung. At the various stages depicted in her own evolution, she demands almost nothing, apart from a similar degree of care and regard. She tells Jung when he insists they end their sexual relationship because she asked too much, “I never asked for more…” The movie’s portrayal of Spielrein’s demand that Jung disclose the truth to Freud so that she may undergo analysis with him, is at once forgiving, firm, and self-assured. For a brief instant, Freud is depicted as redeeming Jung’s mistakes until he reminds Spielrein that they are both Jews and will always be Jews. Spielrein understands the powerful and nuanced destructive forces being acted out between Jung and Freud better than either of them do. Yet she seems capable of holding them both with the gentle forgiving qualities that the feminine sometimes exudes that can heal the deepest wounds in a man’s soul. It is in these scenes that Spielrein’s dignity and force of character was most apparent to me.
The Miller’s Daughter (The Rumpelstilskin Story)
Something about the development of Spielrein’s character left a deep impression of what the individuated woman is like. A Dangerous Method’s portrayal of is a woman who has secured, through hard fought struggle, a formula for making inner gold from the base metals of her life experience. This film’s Sabina Spielrein is a stark contrast to the miller’s daughter from the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale. That miller’s daughter had to reply on the impish Rumpelstiltskin to spin gold for her. Rumpelstilskin we recall deliver’s the miller’s daughter from her plight on condition that he can take possession of the girl’s first born child. In the final scenes of the movie, Jung shares a great deal in common with Rumpelstiltskin. He is seen sitting on a bench, overtaken by deep melancholy when he declares that Spierlein’s baby should have been his; she agrees. Like Rumpelstiltskin, Jung comes across as an incomplete, broken, maybe deformed man who covets the fecundity he sees before him. But Speirlein, unlike the miller’s daughter, has a connection to her animus. She has learned to spin gold without relying on a covetous or undeveloped man. (See Robert Johnson’s Inner Gold for a concise rendering of alchemical gold). When she confirms that Jung has moved on to another mistress, Toni Wolff, the viewer is left with the impression that Jung has progressed very little yet. He has hardly remembered, he has repeated, and he has yet to work through his struggle with monogamy and sexual license.
There is one more facet of the feminine that comes to full fruition in the final scenes at Lake Zürich. Emma and Sabina seem to understand one another now and they both have a wisdom about Jung. It seems that in the course of a man’s development, in those early years when he severs the connection to his interior feminine, he also loses the connection he might have had to Sophia. If such a man is fortunate to encounter a woman possessed of sufficient Sophia and she elects to share herself with him, the ability to rekindle the relationship with his anima is likely to quickened. Jung may have had the blessing of at least three women who imparted to him Sophia. In the case of Emma, she also gave him his beloved home at 228 Seestrasse in Künsnacht. Perhaps, Spielrein, in addition to Sophia, gave Jung a container in which he burst onto the scene of psychoanalysis and also delivered him beyond it to the place he was destined to go. And Toni Wolff, apart from Sophia, may have furnished a vessel for his completion.
A Woman Shall Lead Them; The rest is silence.