Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). Carl Jung (1875-1961). Dissertations have been written on the similarities and disparities between these iconic founders of psychoanalysis.
David Croenberg (“A History of Violence”) spins an accurate version of the relationship between these men whose tools revolved around “discussion”, “talking” to unearth the screeching pain of dreams, hysteria, psychosis; the time is pre -WW1. Carl Jung is an innovative intellect working in a Zurich clinic when he is presented with a unique patient, Sabina Spielrein (1885-1941) a Russian progeny of brilliant Jewish parents, suffering from hysteria. Keira Knightley is incredibly stunning in portraying this tortured, intelligent, gifted young woman. “Sabina” is the subject of the “dangerous method”; also the catalyst in the friendship between Freud and Jung and ultimately its demise. Ms. Knightly holds the reins of “Sabina’s” neuroses with remarkable agility; Sabina spoke four languages and Knightly’s accent never falters; her beauty only a reflection of a keen mind and commanding insights; Sabina becomes a psychoanalyst (awarded her Doctorate in 1911) and introduces the “death instinct” a compelling, tempting attraction, in constant friction with the “life instinct”.
Dr. Jung like Pygmalion is fatally drawn, entrapped by his patient and history supports their affair. Behind their forbidden magnatism lurks the “sexuality” that defines Freud’s hypothesis; sexual drives are the primary motivational force of humanity. Freud as a Jew believed in ancient traditions, informed by the Cabala (Jewish mysticism) and Babylonian conventions. Jung, being an Aryan, without the inherited religious baggage of Freud, centers his analysis on Western beliefs. In the end it was their temperaments and a “woman” who cauterized their camaraderie.
Michael Fassbender (“Shame”) is the conflicted “Jung” skillfully masking his emotional tsunami behind a razor-sharp mentality; his sessions with “Sabina”, tightly- scripted and perfectly balanced; she emotes, he decodes, unmasks; these scenes are powerfully crafted and efficacious in depicting the doctor/patient dynamics.
Viggo Mortensen, a favorite of Croneberg’s (“A History of Violence”, “Eastern Promises” ) is the masterful genius “Freud”; he is fine as the cigar -smoking guru of neophyte Jung, but brittles when adulation turns to questioning, challenging his commandments, especially regarding sexuality and the role of religion in psychoanalysis.
At times problematic is the passionless, controlled characterization of Freud and Jung; deciphering the clinical interpretations of “dreams” the men sink to refined rigidity; empirical conclusions birthed through their intense dialogues.
“A Dangerous Method” is an erudite, well-constructed biography about three people who treated and healed minds; minds perceived by the masses as unsalvageable. Freud’s “The Interpretation of Dreams” and Jung’s “word association” and “collective unconscious” have been the fodder for psychology courses for a hundred years. Croenberg sheds a long hidden light on a woman, Sabina Spielrein, whose powers of observation, aberrational instincts, led to her success as a psychologist. When women were pariahs in male-dominated professions, she fought, forged and earned a deserved legacy.