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Sunday, 12 February 2012

Film Review: A Dangerous Method

You can see from the picture above just how much Mortensen and Fassbender look like Freud and Jung. There are uncanny moments in the film, when one or the other turns his head, and the resemblance is striking. I particularly enjoyed the sight of Mortensen/Freud lighting his cigar and Fassbender/Jung tamping away at his pipe - there must be some symbolism here!

Choosing the above picture is no slight on Kiera Knightly, whose performance as Sabina Speilrein gives this period drama some much needed emotional intensity. Everything else is starched collars and buttoned up emotions - which beautifully captures the period and the personalities of Freud and Jung, but makes for a rather slow and stilted film. Having said that the film is lovely to watch, at one point Jung and Speilrein are aboard a steamboat, which reminded me of the Esmerelda in Visconti's Death in Venice - nothing quite as luxurious here but beautiful nonetheless.

In this film, the director David Cronenberg, suggests that Jung's encounter with his patients, Sabina Speilrein and Otto Gross, leads to his sexual, emotional and philosophical development and ultimately to the break with the dogmatic Freud. But there is enough evidence in the Freud/Jung Letters to suggest that two such powerful personalities were inevitably going to disagree. I don't believe that Speilrein and Gross performed the crucial roles assigned to them in this film. What we know of as Analytical Psychology emerged following Jung's break with Freud: out of the psychosis that the break-up precipitated and the recovery that Jung was able to achieve. I don't think we can give too much credit to Speilrein and Gross.

For me watching the film was a little like watching Freud and Jung's greatest hits: there is the thirteen hour discussion when they first met, the cracking of the bookshelves whilst Freud discouraged Jung from writing about parapsychology, the refusal of Freud to 'risk his authority' and tell Jung his dreams and Jung's "death wish" which caused Freud to collapse on a couple of occasions. I recognised these episodes as they came along, all well known biographical details. Interesting to watch and it's great to see Freud and Jung up there on the big screen, but in the end, no cigar!

Director David Cronenberg, with Viggo Mortensen (Sigmund Freud), Michael Fassbender (Carl Jung), Keira Knightly (Sabina Spielrein), Vincent Cassel (Otto Gross) and Sarah Gadon (Emma Jung)


  1. Hard to disagree with your assessment. However i did enjoy the film, if for no other reason than it was about people i am interested in. For me i enjoyed seeing the differences between the twos' religion and their social class. I laughed out loud when Jung filled his plate at the dinner table, and Freud said "Don't hold back..." while a wife a 6 kids looked on. Also on the boat when Jung went to a State Room while Freud sloped off to his regular cabin (presumably).

    Knightly was a very good 'hysteric' IMO and Gross raised some interesting questions at the debate aftershow. Repression or Expression?

  2. Thanks for commenting Richard, I appreciate it. As time goes by the things I liked about the film are staying with me. You're right, the film really brings home the differences between the two. I enjoyed that too.