The patient is Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), who comes to Jung as a hysterical patient and says “humiliation” triggers her profound anxiety. Any time she sees humiliation she goes into the most horrible, slightly psychotic, shame-filled panic attack. Her father’s anger and his brutal mystification of his children caused this horrific psychological illness. The mind is a terrible thing to wound.
Freud’s most famous contribution to psychology, the three-part structure of the psyche consisting of the Id, the Super Ego and the Ego, is cleverly portrayed in the movie. Freud plays the role of the “Super Ego” and Gross plays the “Id,” the lower nature that is urging Jung to do what comes naturally and have sex with his patient. Jung is trying to decide which behavior to choose, just as the Ego decides between the urges of the Id and the warnings of the Super Ego.
An interesting rift happens between Freud and Jung when they travel to America on a steamer. Jung is booked in First Class, which does not sit well with the great Sigmund Freud, and he retaliates by refusing to share a dream with Jung.
“I don’t want to risk my authority,” he says. Freud’s prideful ego and Jung’s unstable ego cause the relationship to go downhill from there.
They disagree on several points, but Freud’s main complaint is about Jung’s interest in fantasies and “archetypes.” Freud has a need for strict scientific analysis. This conflict inspires many letters and much civilized conflict. Eventually, they decide not to correspond further. This break causes Jung to go into a significant depression and causes much upset to Freud.
Jung’s stinging criticism is, “You always treat your friends like patients.” Freud denies this, but fails to see how he never stops his analyzing mind.
The acting in “A Dangerous Method” is superb. At first I was disappointed to hear Viggo Mortensen plays the role of Freud, but after watching it I was not disappointed in his performance. I was also impressed with Fassbinder. He was incredibly convincing as a European man of medicine.
In real life, things worked out well for Jung. He lived until 1961, an old man having lived out his purpose and dreams of his life.
The movie takes place between 1904 and 1911. At one point Freud says, “In a hundred years time our work will still be rejected.” We can now see that prediction.
For those of you who are stuck in demonizing Freud for his sexualizing of psychological symptoms, try to remember the good things he discovered; for instance, hypnosis, talking as a cure, understanding the unconscious, and most notably, the focus on how the ego is in a constant state of trying to defend itself from shame, harm and anxiety.
“A Dangerous Method” is not great cinema, but certainly is a thoroughly engrossing history lesson concerning three fascinating people of the 20th century. It will satisfy your id, ego and super ego.
Rated R for sexual content and brief language.
Cedric Wood, Ph.D., L.P.C.
Counselor for individuals, couples, and entire families.
Specializing in adult children and their parents.
7424 Greenville Ave.