A Dangerous Method by John Kerr was the title of a book about the therapy methods employed by Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, focusing on the processes of psychoanalysis, the client talking and the therapist listening. The book was used as a basis for a play by Christopher Hampton which he called The Talking Cure.
Christopher Hampton has written the screenplay for this film based on his play. It has been directed by David Cronenberg who, for more than thirty years, has made a wide range of films, from horror science-fiction to psychological dramas like Spider, A History of Violence and Eastern Promises.
The film has been promoted as dramatising birth of psychoanalysis or the break between Freud and Jung. This is certainly the case, but there is much more. In fact, the attention is principally on Jung, his ideas, his work and his personal life.
While Freud is present, he is seen in conjunction with his friendship for Jung and then their parting of ways. The screenplay reminds us of the differences between them, Jung from Switzerland, Freud from Austria, Jung wealthy, Freud poorer and with a large family, Jung Protestant, Freud Jewish.
The other important characters in the film are Jung’s long-suffering and pardoning wife, Emma (Sarah Gadon), as well as Jung’s key patient, Sabine Spielrein, whom he treated, with whom he had an affair, who contributed to ‘freeing’ him from his rather strict, even repressed, persona.
What does the film have to offer on Freud and on Jung?
As played by Michael Fassbender, Jung is a dignified man, proper in dress and manner, fascinated by the human psyche and the ‘talking cure’ for his patients. He is married and beginning a family, more devoted to his wife than loving her.
The complication for Jung’s life is his work with the Russian, Sabina Spielrein. She is played with some force by Keira Knightly, and she eventually admits to masochistic feelings derived from her father’s beating her and humiliating her as a child.
Nevertheless, she wants to study psychology and become a therapist (which, historically, she did, practising in Russia for almost thirty years before a round-up of Jews and Nazi execution early in World War II).
It is not often that a mentally stimulating film like this comes along, and it is to be welcomed - Peter Malone, Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Starring Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightly, Viggo Mortensen, and Vincent Cassel. Directed by David Cronenberg. Rated MA 15+ (Sexual themes). 99 minutes.