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A Dangerous Method


A Dangerous Method, which concerns the turbulent relationships between early psychoanalysts Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, and the less-heralded Sabina Spielrein, is generally accomplished, but it is at once also overly dispassionate and insufficiently edifying. David Cronenberg’s skillfully detached direction and Christopher Hampton’s mannered, measured screenplay may be entirely in keeping with the material’s clinical, turn-of-the-20th-century setting, and with the stifled impulses of the characters, but these qualities also serve as obstacles to firmly establishing the scenario’s emotional stakes. Because of this, rather than the illicit, ill-fated romance between Jung and Spielrein, the theoretical tête-à-têtes between Jung and Freud are the film‘s most engaging element. It’s a disappointment that its most intriguing scenes aren’t more elaborately developed.

As portrayed by the predictably excellent Michael Fassbender, Jung begins the film as an ardent adherent of the pioneering Freud (an equally excellent Viggo Mortensen), and is eager to put the latter’s “talking cure” into practice on a hysterical young woman (Kiera Knightley’s Spielrein), who is committed to his care. Initially crazed, cackling, and grossly contorted, Spielrein is transformed by the treatment, a result that fosters both a collegial bond between Jung and Freud, and a doctor-patient friendship fraught with sexual tension. Inspired by a disgraced Freudian disciple (a show-stealing cameo from Vincent Cassel), Jung takes Spielrein as a mistress, and encourages her to pursue her own ambitions as an analyst. His bond with Freud, meanwhile, gradually falls apart as the elder practitioner resists his protégé’s bid to expand the nascent science of psychiatry into overtly spiritual realms. (Undertones of oedipal patricidal paranoia also abound.)

In adapting both his own stage play, The Talking Cure, and John Kerr’s non-fiction book, A Most Dangerous Method, Hampton draws on archival correspondences between Jung and Freud. The missives and (all too brief) face-to-face encounters that chart the course of their complex relationship are consistently compelling, if slightly cursory in their handling of the subject matter. Scenes between Jung and Spielrein, in contrast, are hampered by the film’s elliptical structure and its general air of restraint. Ultimately, it’s Jung and Freud’s barbed epistolary exchanges—and not scenes of Jung dourly gratifying Spielren with sexually charged spankings—that carry the greatest sting.


  • Anonymous

    A dangerous method: it’s textually and sexually risky, but it will not work.

    I suggest a motto for psychoanalysis: “We do not have the goods.” We are now missing our sacred banana, and we have lost our 22 cigars. Our penis has the veil taken. We are the Modern American Conscience Undertakers. (It takes 2,000 to carry the coffin of our retrograde psychoanalytic technique.)

    Every day this week, I have examined The NYT minutely to see if there will be anything penetrating on the national meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association in New York. Then I check the Internet NYT to make certain of the erasure:

    [☠ :: The American Psychoanalytic Association ushers in a second century of
    service with its 2012 National Meeting. The House of Usher? Deadly. Do not so dice with Fate.

    January 10 – 15, 2012 Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York City.

    The January Meeting is the Association’s largest event of the year. It brings together more than 2,000 attendees from around the world and delivers full days of psychoanalytic programming, with more than 200 unique sessions to consider.]

    If by analogy we examine minutely: “New Storage Device Is Very Small, at 12 Atoms,” in The NYT today, on I.B.M. nanotechnology, we will readily note by comparison the arrested development of American psychoanalysis. Given that psychology, in response to reality, is becoming x10 more complex, it is essential that its imago, psychoanalysis, generate corresponding x10 focusing power at the micro-level:

    forms… for for… performance…

    Explain the textual error, psychoanalysis. Stop resisting the analysis. When we dead awaken…

    [The third side of the story’s psychiatric triangle forms two years later when Jung, in his early thirties, eventually meets the 50-year-old Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and the two men talk for for 13 hours straight. Mortensen’s sardonic performance sees the shrewd, possibly paranoid Viennese master waving his cigar to make his points and working to draw Jung into his movement. He sees the younger man as a potentially useful disciple, a Swiss Christian who can lend credibility to what has been regarded as a Viennese Jewish practice.]

    An outstanding Special Project for students interested in literature and psychology, for January and February 2012, would be composed of “A Dangerous Method,” book and film, the new Penguin Freud’s “Dora,” and Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw,” Norton Critical Edition.

    Is it a subject for psychoanalysis that this flawed WSJ text of Dec. 31st, 2011, on the war in Iraq, resists analysis? What triggered the error?

    [But the two wars have also helped push the military strategy from a playbook of offense and defense, to one that includes a third class of operations—strategies that include so-called counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, aimed at maintaining stability for populations in often-hostile zones and turning potential allies into enemies.]

    There are two transcendent indicators of the failure of literary psychoanalysis, the first the distorted psychoanalytic readings of Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw,” the second the failure to bring to our realization that “Sailing to Byzantium,” by W.B. Yeats, is insistently (if) unconsciously (?) about Maud Gonne. Only someone (everyone) deaf to the sounds of English, of chiasmus in William Blake’s “The Sick Rose,” could misconstrue the formal evidence of the text:

    form… form… gold… gold…

    Maud Gonne. That golden, if invidious, woman:

    Once out of nature I shall never take
    My bodily form from any natural thing,
    But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
    Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
    To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
    Or set upon a golden bough to sing
    To lords and ladies of Byzantium
    Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

    The film failed to weave the antiquities at the Freud Museum London into the plot.

    It did not elaborate sufficiently on Freud’s “rigid pragmatism.”

    The mute background figures were curiously sterile. As if normality were the true abnormal. Normal abnormality/abnormal normality.

    What is the role of the Jung face-slashing?

    There is no penetrating micro-analysis of any work of philosophy, literature, or art work of antiquity in the film, parallel to the programmatic, shrunken psychoanalytic insensitivity now apparent, in misreadings of “The Turn of the Screw” or “Sailing to Byzantium.” The camera could not get tight, suggestive, illuminating focus on the desk antiquities. (Zero in on the text or admit that you are a textual hysteric). The barn owl knows. It hears beyond the range of hearing. As lucid as Lucifer’s lucidity.

    There is a lack of media coverage of the national meeting in New York this week of the American Psychoanalytic Association. As if the President-elect accepts that he has nothing to say. Must be from Harvard: