Posts Tagged ‘Film’

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Touching the Unspeakable Nightmare – A Must See Film.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

I just finished viewing the film We Have to Talk About Kevin.  I watched the film primarily out of obligation as we are about to host a seminar on it.  I knew nothing about it, other than Dan Ross was moved by it and wanted to lead a seminar about “the Predator.”  I was absolutely blown away by the film and sit here in a stunned state. I don’t write many blog’s for the Asheville Jung Center.  In fact I haven’t written any prior to this; but I sit here so stunned that I feel I have no choice. I’m a psychiatrist and have been practicing some 20 years now. I’ve seen many wonderful patients over the years and been delighted by their dreams and stories.  I’ve also, however, had a handful of patients that make my hair stand on end and keep me up at night.  I’ve run into patients that seem to have no conscious at all; that have no remorse for any act.  I’ve had rageful patients, incredibly abusive spouses and even one that shot his wife and his two children execution style.  I’ve been haunted by these encounters and never truly known what to do with them.  This film brought these feelings and memories into Technicolor and left me stranded on a desolate reef. What is a sociopath?  How are they formed?  Is it nature, nurture, or a cruel act of fate?  How can anyone sink to the level of random murder? Anyone who has been horrified by Columbine or any mass killing or even the sociopathic car salesman talking you into the wrong vehicle must see this film.  Be prepared to lose your grounding of what you thought was typical humanity and be left in a disturbing paralysis. Regardless of whether you can make our seminar next week or not, do see this movie.  It hits the absolute bowels of our society, but you will not regret it. Steven Buser, MD Founder, Asheville Jung Center

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Jung and Spielrein

A Woman Shall Lead Them: The Feminine in “A Dangerous Method”


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  

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.


Ravaged Virgin


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.

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Thoughts from the Black Swan Seminar…

The seminar on Friday (still available for viewing) was an extraordinary opportunity for several people to come together, both on line and in person in Asheville.   There was so much to discuss with the Black Swan. It felt like the more we uncovered the more expansive the material became.  I was struck by the energy in the room and also the feel from the internet participants because we were participating in something global.   There was a sense of community around this glorious film. Michael De Meritt’s contribution was fascinating for his perspective on film-making which I think added a different dimension in contrast with the Jungian perspective.  We discussed Nina’s dark journey as the nigredo in the seminar.  This journey is our journey.  We discussed Nina’s addiction to perfection, her neurotic symptoms as aesthetic component of the emergence of Nina’s shadow life, her black swan nature. We discussed the making of the film, the contributing ideas from other films, novels and of course the Tchaikovsky’s ballet, Swan Lake.  We moved deeper then into the underlying mythologies of Demeter and Persephone.  I encouraged the participants to see the HBO film Mildred Pierce, directed by Todd Haynes as a companion film to Black Swan. This film is a remake of a film with Joan Crawford and was more loyal to the book than the latter.   The fusion of mother, played by Kate Winslet, & her daughter is the common factor between Black Swan and Mildred Pierce but the latter is a film told more from the perspective of the mother, while Black Swan clearly moved our sympathies to the daughter.  Finally we discussed alchemy and the images from alchemy as being most consistent with dream images.  Jung believed alchemy provided an uncontaminated view of the collective unconscious. We compared Nina’s transformation to that of Jung himself reflected in his writings in the Red Book. One of the questions of the participants on line was around the idea of Nina’s scratching and woundedness as depicting the narcissistic wound.  We would expect, as Nina emerges from this early narcissistic phase characterized by over identification with the mother, a wounding would appear as manifested by the wounds Nina seems to be self inflicting.  This is one way to view Nina’s wounding.  Another way is to see the wounds as containing the emergence of her instinctual nature as the black swan.  I am reminded of the David Cronenberg film, The Fly, another film in the horror genre (Black Swan does some cross over into this genre) in which a scientist who is unbalanced in the direction of being too scientific, too rational, performs an experiment on himself in which his nature is merged with that of a fly and over time the fly nature (instinctual nature) begins to emerge in similar fashion to Nina.  It begins with a scratch on his back made by his lover in the midst of passionate lovemaking. Soon black insect hairs start to emerge from the wound. Over time his fly nature completely takes over his human nature and destroys him. The Black Swan continues to instruct us and the seminar was a wonderful opportunity to bring these ideas together in a live forum.  I want to thank those who participated and to remind them to let us know what worked and what didn’t so we can prepare for an even better film seminar next time.  And if you have interest in a particular film for future discussion, please let us know.  Thank you. -Daniel Ross Our seminar on the Black Swan will remain available for viewing through October 1st, 2011. Registration is still available.  Click here to Register.

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The Alchemy of the Black Swan: Nina’s Magnum Opus

Len’s posting last week about the film the Black Swan addresses not only an aspect of the protagonist’s nature, the pursuit of perfection, but it also reflect’s our society’s addiction to perfection. We not only want perfection, we want a shortcut to get there. Over the last few months postings on this blog regarding the Black Swan reveal many different aspects of the film that have touched many people.  Here are a few of the comments: Cynthia commented “Throughout the whole movie we are never sure what is “real”, there is a constant weaving of images from Nina’s internal and external worlds. Nina was under the spell of her mother’s unlived life and needed to breakaway and begin her own life process.”   Constance Myslek-McFadden commented: “To me, the movie was one of the most brilliant, beautiful, psychologically and emotionally accurate and evocative movies I’ve ever seen. I loved it!”   David Pressault commented: I found that the years of training in an aesthetic that is so far removed from the natural tendencies of the body often results in one loosing some basic connection to certain instincts. In a sense, the connection to our body as the animal part of us, so often is lost in ballet training. We will be discussing the Black Swan from many perspectives on Friday. I welcome your thoughts and ideas about what you would like to discuss as there is so much archetypal material from which to draw.  I will be incorporating more of the fascinating and intelligent comments posted on our two blog postings on this film.  The commenters provided varied backgrounds in therapy as well as dance and brought a  richness to the discussion that was brilliant and provocative.  I look forward to that same liveliness and level of participation at Friday’s seminar. If nothing else the Black Swan got us to discuss how a film like this can move us.  The reactions of many to this film were often extreme. Some really loved it and some were repulsed by it, but I did not hear anyone say it was boring or average. We are also fortunate to have a second presenter, Michael DeMeritt, join us.  Michael has been a producer, writer & director on numerous film and television projects over the last 20 years. He is a member of the Director’s Guild of America and has served as assistant director on such well known series as LA Law, Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise. He has won numerous awards including an Emmy recognition certificate for special effects and currently resides in Los Angeles.  Michael will be adding another dimension to the film analysis, namely an inside perspective on film making. Why has there been so much written about this film?  Why does it provoke such polar and polarizing reactions?  Why do some of us love this film and why do so many of us hate it?  Let’s find out.  Let’s dive into the archetypal themes of the dark feminine, twinship, the shadow and anima/animus. Let’s look into the film from an alchemical perspective to understand the nature of transformation and finally let’s compare this film to Jung’s real life confrontation with the unconscious as described in the Red Book. I look forward to Friday and I hope you can join us. – Dan Ross (Seminar Presenter) [Click here for Registration Page on Upcoming Seminar]

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Black Swan and Being a “Good Enough Therapist”

I am watching more films, reading more film reviews, and using my 3-D glasses (2-D plus Depth Psychology) in anticipation of the August 26, 2011 conference Transformation of the Black Swan (register at ). I started reading the latest issue of Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture with the film reviews in the back. The entire issue that is devoted to Home and the Wanderer.  It is an extraordinary compilation that you will not regret owning. As an exercise, I began reading Spring from back to front.  I don’t just mean that I started with the last item in the table of contents, which I did.  I started with the last sentence of each article and proceeded to the next to the last sentence, then the one before that and so on and so on until I reached the first sentence in the review.  Those familiar with Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow will appreciate the intriguing Alice in Wonderland results that ensued.  I began with Dr. Glen Slater’s review of The King’s Speech. Reading it from back to front, I was moved from pure, distilled insights to the first sentence that could double as a movie tagline “The King’s Speech is the story of how a stuttering monarch-in-the-making faces his fears and ascends to the British throne to rally the empire at the start of World War II.” . Dr. Terry Waddell’s review of Black Swan was next.  This review was as compelling when I read it back to front when I subsequently read it in the customary direction.  The experience reminded me of watching two violinists playing Mozart’s Table Duets.  Waddell’s film review was the catalyst I needed to finish watching the Black Swan. (I had been unsuccessful twice before).  The following excerpt begins with the last sentence of Waddell’s review and reverses time’s arrow. “It is already here for us to find in the confusion of being.  Nothing is really missing.  There is no illusive someone or something out there that needs to be grasped in order to feel unbroken.  and her’s what I found to be thrust of Black Swan.  Reaching out to others as if they can provide a more adequate identity – and by extension a sense of wholeness – exacts a damaging toll.  Nina is even more incapable of disciplining the archetypal challenges that arise to shift her into the next gear of maturity.  That certain artistic (and dare I add educational) institutions thrive on this message is destructive.  That we are often socially coerced into perpetual want is unfortunate.  If mindfully living in self-appreciation carries with it a feeling of sufficiency, I’m all for that but striving for an illusive state of perfect inner/outer alignment implies that we lack, we are inadequate, we will never be enough. Life is a relentlessly messy process.  We are too, necessarily unique, complex, and fragmented to ver realistically imagine ourselves as complete.  This obsessive search for wholeness, as perfection or the individuated state, potentially leads to the antithesis of this goal.” The line between concepts like self-improvement and the neurotic pursuit of perfection grows indistinct these days.  A frequent sight across the United States are cars with bumper stickers proclaiming “My son (daughter) is an honor student at _______ Elementary School”.  Vacuous and excessive praise poured upon unsuspecting children by well intentioned parents does not achieve the desired goal of building self esteem.  However, it does invite two insidious results.  It robs youngsters of the vitally important experience of working hard on a sustained basis to attain a reward.  And another malevolent effect is that such messages inculcate, at an early age, the idea that our worth correlates with our nearness to perfection. Waddell interprets the Black Swan through a lens of the relentless pursuit of perfection.  Marion Woodman’s Addiction to Perfection comes to mind and Waddell quotes her in his review.  Waddell asserts that the project of unending self-betterment will never be enough. The film review made the film more approachable and I began to recognize Nina’s struggle with certain universal themes. My first impressions of Black Swan was that this film was a dark tale about the world of dance, sexual exploitation, and a descent into madness with a bit of gratuitous sex thrown in.  But with Waddell’s help, I finished watching the movie. I watched Nina becoming lost in the boundary between a story portrayed and a story lived.  Now the peril of perfection declared itself.  Seeking to embody both the white swan and the black swan proved too much.  This conjunctio, taken to excess, leads to Nina’s self-destruction.  The performer cannot allow a character they portray to establish a permanent residence in the psyche.  That “All the world’s stage. And all men and women merely players” serves to remind us that there are roles and there are actors who play these roles.  We do well to keep them distinct. Waddell suggests that “This obsessive search for wholeness, as perfection or the individuated state, potentially leads to the antithesis of this goal”.  It is easy to succumb to the demon of endless self-betterment, individuation, and wholeness.  But like Nina, that may be a path leading to perdition.  It may be that we serve best when we put aside the inclination to do our “best” work with our clients and embrace the possibility that good enough therapy, like good enough mothering, may be more helpful than unleashing the destructive power of our own pursuit of perfection as therapists. I am still struggling with Black Swan. I hope the conference on August 26 illuminates something about my revulsion to this movie.  Meanwhile, Waddell’s film review along with Daniel Ross’s review on this blog site at ( ) provided a needed foundation for me persevere and finish watching Black Swan. There is still time to register for the August 26th seminar .  While you are doing that consider purchasing a copy of the current issue of Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture at ( ). Len Cruz

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