Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Dangerous Method: Review

Way back in September 2008 I wrote the following in this blog:


"I have long been a reader of the works of Carl Gustave Jung (1875 – 1961) who was a famous Swiss psychiatrist, a personal friend and disciple of the founder of psychoanalysis Dr Sigmund Freud, an influential thinker and the founder of analytical psychology in opposition to psychoanalysis. Jung himself owed much to his erstwhile friend and mentor, though they grew apart as the younger man began to establish himself as an independent thinker. I had heard all the following Jungian terms when I was at college in the 1970s as his thought had infiltrated the study not alone of psychology but also of philosophy, theology and English literature which I was then studying: Shadow, Collective Unconscious, Archetypes, Individuation and Synchronicity. These words have been rattling around in my head for the last thirty years and I have often alluded to them in these posts. I have just finished reading the excellent biography of Carl Gustave Jung - the one written by Ronald Hayman.   Dr. Anthony Storr, also a favourite psychiatrist and Jungian therapist, had this to say of Hayman's book: "The best biography of Jung." When I saw this judgement quoted on the dust jacket I immediately purchased my copy of A Life of Jung (W.W. Norton & Co., 2001)"  See here.

I have also discussed Freud many times in these pages also. In April 2009, I wrote the following about the founder of psychoanalysis:

"Freud spent his whole life attempting to fathom what was at the heart of the human psyche – if it’s not somewhat contradictory to use the metaphor ‘heart’ with respect to the mind. In doing so he constructed his famous archaeological or topographical or layer model of the psyche namely – conscious, preconscious and unconscious strata(depths or layers) of the mind. Needless to say, Freud had been obsessed with archaeology. Then, we are all possibly as well, if not more, acquainted with his structural model of the psyche – that is, the model with which practically everyone who knows even a little about Freud is acquainted with, at least with the terminology which has entered common parlance, namely Id, Ego and Superego. These according to Freud are the major components of the self or mind or personality, call it what you will for the moment. It is very important to note that this structural model puts these three major components in the unconscious. These Ego, Id and Superego are not topographical regions or layers as it were as we saw in his archaeological model. Rather they are distinct agencies at war or in conflict with one another. Indeed, for Freud human beings were not yet fully evolved. Hence there was a split or a rift in their very nature. In other words human beings were torn between their dark bestial motives (Id) and civilized conduct and demeanour (mores and manners and morals of society). On the one hand then there was humankind's animal nature (Id) and its cultural aspirations.(promoted by the Superego) Hence, humans are literally driven to seek pleasure, but society and civilization reign this rapaciousness in because control of passions is necessary - otherwise there would be murder, rape and strife of all kinds." (See here )


A Dangerous Method Poster
When I saw the trailer of A Dangerous Method in the cinema recently, I could not resist going to this film with a certain expectation. This is a good, but not brilliant film.  I enjoyed it much and would go back and view it several times again.  However, I feel that anyone unacquainted with the birth and development of psychoanalysis will be at a loss with this film.  It would be a good introduction to whet the appetites of would-be counsellors and psychotherapists of all hues, though I wonder how appealing it will be to the mass audience of cinema-goers.  Indeed, anyone who has read either Freud or Jung, even books about them, will be familiar with some lines of dialogue which come straight from their own writings, like the following:


“We are bringing them the plague,” Freud purportedly said when he and Jung and Ferenczi disembarked in New York in 1909. “We’re bringing them the plague, and they don’t even know it.” (Quotation from The Death of Sigmund Freud by by Mark Edmundson, p. 32)


Jung and Freud remained very close friends for some seven years from March 1907 till 1914. As Hayman succinctly remarks about this friendship: "Both benefited professionally: the alliance helped to propagate Freud's ideas, while the ideas helped both of them to international fame. (Carl Jung: Biography, Ronald Hayman).  The film is essentially an account of their relationship and of the development of psychoanalysis as a therapy over those years.  Freud saw himself as the architect and founder of psychoanalysis and he demanded nothing short of complete allegiance to his ideas and his ideas alone.  That Freud was arrogant and egotistical about his beloved theories and practices which he saw essentially as firmly scientific is beyond doubt.  That he became angry, even neurotic, when saw his favoured "son" and "heir" beginning to go his own way, come up with wider and more "mystical" and unscientific ideas about psychoanalysis is also undoubted.  That inevitably a split would come where two large "egos" meet is also always beyond doubt.  When the split did come it was final and irreversible.  This film follows their relationship to this bitter end.


Always an Eve


Sabina Spielrein
I suppose there always has to be a temptress somewhere in the background, even foreground to tempt our would-be hero.  The temptress comes in the person of Sabina Spielrein.  The film opens with the hysterical Sabina being forcibly brought to the Burghölzli Mental Hospital  which is portrayed as a very humane institution indeed, given that we are in the early years of the twentieth century before the First World WarJung is presented as a kind and sympathetic person which indeed he was.  As a reader of Jung for many years it was only in the last ten years that I learnt that he had at least two mistresses, both of whom were his patients.  That this great man had feet of clay came as a surprise initially, but unfortunately we are all too human, all too much heir to our own weaknesses, so to demand superhuman qualities from our heroes is probably asking too much.  However, after the initial shock, or more correctly initial disappointment, I quickly realised that I was being silly and that we all have our weaknesses.  This certainly does not detract from the validity of Jung's theories which are extremely holistic to say the least.


His relationship with his patient Sabina gathers momentum. At first it is purely platonic or romantic. Eventually after long deliberations it becomes sexual. He became her 'Siegfried', the romantic hero of her dreams, and Jung admits all this to Freud. Being acutely aware as psychiatrists of transference, it is remarkable indeed that these two great men often got lost under the strength of its allure. Sabina referred to their lovemaking as 'poetry.' This was also a very fraught relationship - one which, when Jung decided to end it, caused Sabina to stab him at his consultancy room. Luckily for him, she only managed to stab him in the hand, though in the film we see that she stabs him in the face.  That the film portrays Jung as beating the semi-clad Spielrein on the buttocks during love-making is more than likely the director's imagination rather than historic fact, though I could be wrong here.  Knowing films, and what films must do for dramatic purposes, I instinctively feel that some licence is taken here.


A Dangerous Method is a 2011 Canadian historical film directed by David Cronenberg and starring Viggo Mortensen (as Freud), Michael Fassbender (as Jung) , Keira Knightley (as Sabina) and Vincent Cassel (as Otto Gross). The screenplay was adapted by Academy Award-winning writer Christopher Hampton from his 2002 stage play The Talking Cure, which in turn was based on the 1993 non-fiction book by John Kerr, A Most Dangerous Method: the story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein.


A Dangerous Method is a German/Canadian co-production. The film premiered at The 68th Venice Film Festival and was also featured at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.  As I said above it is a good film which I'd give a 6 or 7 out of 10 to.  The cinematography (by Peter Suschitzky) is wonderful as are the period costumes and the studies of Jung and Freud as well as the latter's famous couch are all lovingly and carefully rendered to give an overall feeling of authenticity.


If you are going to go to this film a little light reading, if it is possible to do light reading about psychoanalysis, is a must to get you into the frame of mind.  Incidentally, the music is wonderful and is by the inimitable Howard Shore.

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