Freud vs. Jung In New Movie

I have been eagerly anticipating “A Dangerous Method,” David Cronenberg’s new film about Freud, Jung, and Sabina Spielrein, ever since I read Todd McCarthy’s highly favorable review from the Venice Film Festival. McCarthy is normally reliable, but I should have known he was off his game this time when he referred to the Swiss Jung as “Catholic,” when in fact he was quintessentially Protestant. (His father was a Swiss Reformed pastor.) The movie, which I saw at a New York Film Festival screening, is moderately absorbing, but the more you know about either Freud or Jung, the less satisfying you’re likely to find it. Christopher Hampton’s script, based on his play “The Talking Cure” (which in London starred Ralph Fiennes as Jung) and a 1994 book by John Kerr, for dramatic purposes must reduce Freud to the Scientist and Jung, eventually, to the Metaphysician, which is a rather gross distortion. (There are plenty of people who don’t think Freud was much of a scientist — but I digress.) The film centers on Jung, and his affair with Spielrein, a Russian Jew who comes to him for treatment in 1904 and eventually becomes his mistress. Michael Fassbender, who plays Jung, brings a buttoned-up correctness to the role, but it’s not much fun watching him shed his stiffness and start spanking Spielrein for erotic purposes. (Cronenberg’s movie “Dead Ringers,” with Jeremy Irons, was much more creepily kinky.) Viggo Mortensen‘s Freud is more enjoyable, tossing off Jewish vs. Gentile remarks with sly gusto. Keira Knightley spares herself nothing as Spielrein: it’s a brave performance, which some people may find slightly preposterous. I wish I had found her story, and those of the two psychoanalysts, more absorbing. Final thought: The movie’s sexuality — especially the discussions about the place of sexuality theory in the development of psychoanalysis — has been so absorbed into our culture that it’s almost impossible to present it in a way that gives a contemporary audience any kind of thrill. So perhaps the fault here lies not with Cronenberg and Hampton but with ourselves. We know too much.

Leave a Comment