A stellar cast, a director with decades of daring and successful films to his credit (among them: Dead Ringers, Videodrome, The Fly, Naked Lunch, A History of Violence), a writer lauded for his previous distinguished works (such as Atonement, Dangerous Liaisons, Carrington), and the fascinating subject matter of the clashing ideologies within the budding science of psychology between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and his apprentice-turned-traitor, Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). Yet, I am disappointed.
There are two major points of contention between them: (1) the ethics of taking advantage of a patient’s transference — patient Sabina Spielrein’s (Keira Knightly) love and desire for her therapist, Jung, and his participation in a sexual relationship with her, to Freud’s chagrin; and (2) Freud’s desire to strictly maintain psychology as a science and, therefore, avoid any connection with the paranormal in any of its guises. Jung firmly believed in these connections, later being remembered for his theories of the ‘collective unconscious, appearing archetype, including mythology, symbols and patterns that appear in dreams,’ all still unsubstantiated. Discussions on those topics seemed coherent and understandable, but they would also indulge in rapid fire discussions about minutia of the sexual drive which seemed to be thrown into the mix to confound.
As to the therapy itself, I wondered how patient Sabina, sitting in a straight back chair with Jung sitting close behind her in another straight back chair and outside her vision (pre easy chair and lounge chair used in therapy later), could so readily reveal her childhood abuse and so quickly show positive psychological results. Sabina went from a raving, screaming, out of control Hysteric to a calm collegian and conversationalist within a few short sessions. I also wondered if Knightly was painfully over-acting during these pre-therapy scenes or if that was the documented behavior of early 20th Century women who suffered from Hysteria. Seems the unbridled sex between patient and doctor which ensued after her transformation to sanity may have been purely hedonistic and not particularly therapeutic. It certainly broke the tedium of discourse between Freud and Jung.
The film was not satisfying in understanding either the basic or more subtle theories of this dangerous method, nor did it bring context to the study of psychology within its time in history — the approaching War to end all wars, followed by the anti semitism which would exile Freud and his colleagues. True, a film is not obliged to tell a full story – the gestalt, to filch another German psychological term– but the writer and director’s perspective of a limited issue in a confined timeframe. Still, Freud comes off as no more than the saner of the two combatants, considering Jung’s ethical trespasses, adultery, and flights into unscientific whimsy. Freud was relegated to being Jung’s good angel/conscious on his right shoulder, trying to direct him on the right path, but to no avail, with Sabina trapped betwixt them while on her own quest for psychological equanimity and developing the field itself further.
Still, I was hypnotized by the array of beautiful white cotton blouses trimmed in lace. So many blouses, each with different delicately tatted trim about the neckline and bodice. So many different subtle variations on the theme of pure white, unblemished, unwrinkled, cotton blouses and occasionally dresses. I couldn’t wait for each new scene which included Sabina or Jung’s wife, Emma, anticipating another in the plethora of white cotton, lace trimmed blouses. Hmmm. Best talk to my therapist about this!
A Dangerous Method
Director: David Cronenberg
Writer: Christopher Hampton
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Sarah Gadon
Time: 99 min.
Opening December 16 at Embarcadero Cinema and Sundance Kabuki in San Francisco