Whether or not you are familiar with the works of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and even if you are not an advocate of their theories, the film “A Dangerous Method” will prove to be an educational experience for the viewer.  However, if you are anticipating a clear explanation of Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis and Carl Jung’s school of analytical psychology, you will be greatly disappointed.

The screenplay relates the true story told by John Kerr in his non-fiction book entitled “A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein,” published in 1993.


Sigmund FreudCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                            Sigmund Freud - Wikimedia


The relationship between Jung and Freud takes a back seat as more footage is given to Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightley as they play their parts which progress from a doctor/patient connection to become lovers.  Michael Fassbender does an excellent job of portraying Carl Jung, but Keira Knightley, as Sabina Spielrein, falls short. 

The story begins by showing the Swiss doctor, Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), at the age of 29, at work at a Clinic in Zurich, when a new patient is admitted, an 18-year old Russian girl, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley).  As Sabina is dragged against her will into the Clinic, screaming in hysteria, Carl Jung takes over as her doctor, and begins her therapy, which is based on the theories of Sigmund Freud, the founder of the branch of learning known as psychoanalysis.

Jung used Freud’s “talking cure” on Sabina wherein he sat in a chair behind her while she spoke, so that she could not discern his reactions by seeing his face.  Freud (played by Viggo Mortenson) believed that talking about one’s problems helped a patient significantly to work his way through them.  Jung also put Sabina through a “word association” test which was also one of Freud’s classic methods.  Sabina was extremely intelligent and Dr. Jung managed to free her of her oppressive feelings to reveal that she herself aspired to become a psychiatrist.


Carl JungCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                                   Carl Jung - Wikimedia

Influences on Carl Jung

Jung, at this point in the story, had not met Freud, and knew of him only through his writings.  He was highly impressed with Freud’s radical new science known as psychoanalysis.  He was also influenced by another doctor he took on as a patient, Dr. Oscar Gross (Vincent Cassel), whose libertine behavior was the subject of his therapy sessions with Jung.  By ridiculing Jung’s straight-laced behavior, he was able to convince him that monogamy was foolish and that Jung should take the opportunity to seek sexual partners among his patients.  Jung had always been faithful to his wife Emma (Sarah Gadon), a docile mother of their five children, who was also the heir to a huge fortune.

Carl Jung and Sabina Spielrein were gradually drawn into a sexual relationship, the truth of which had only been supported by rumors at the time, but was later verified through the diaries of Sabina.  Sabina wanted Jung to leave his wife to marry her, but the relationship never came to that.

                                                      Viggo MortensenCredit: Wikimedia Commons 

                                                              Viggo Mortensen - Wikimedia

Relationship between Jung and Freud

Carl Jung eventually travelled to Vienna to meet Dr. Freud, and the conversation, they realized, lasted 13 hours.  Freud was especially interested in mentoring a male student who was not Jewish, since he was concerned that the anti-Semitism prevalent at that time would have a negative effect on the public’s perception of his theory of psychoanalysis.  Freud was particular about surrounding himself with students who never questioned his theories and findings.  The secondary theme of the film is the intriguing relationship between Freud, the father figure to his protégé Jung, whom he visualized as the future promoter of his cause.

On a journey by boat to America for a conference, Jung and Freud were able to discuss their personal theories with each other for long periods of time.  Discord developed when Jung contended that psychoanalysis most certainly can reveal the cause of psychological problems, but it can never cure the patient.


Keira KnightleyCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                             Keira Knightley - Wikimedia

Differences Arise

Freud insisted that sex is an underlying factor in every neurosis, and that all mental illness is rooted in sexual experiences that occurred in childhood.  He explored the idea that mental trauma caused physical symptoms, which he termed “conversion disorder.”  The term is still in use today. Jung’s wish was to further expand the theory by delving into spirituality, the occult, the supernatural, and the mystical.  He even dabbled in tarot cards.  Freud believed that the scientific community would react negatively if the founders of the psychoanalysis theory veered from their main topic to focus on disparate themes.  

What this suggests is, and the film concurs, is that psychoanalysis as a scientifically based system, would be harmed if the public were aware that the main craftsmen engaged in a power struggle over their approaches and conclusions.  Many of Freud’s students moved on because of the basic disagreements that arose between Freud’s version of psychoanalysis and Jung’s definition of analytic psychology.  The two men were forced to break off their collegial collaboration.


Michael FassbenderCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                            Michael Fassbender - Wikimedia

The Truth Comes Out

When Carl Jung ended his relationship with Sabina Spielrein, he endeavored to continue to meet on a doctor/patient basis, which she would not accept.  He confided to her that his love for her had made him into a better person.  Jung subsequently took on another mistress, who was one of his patients, a relationship which lasted for several decades while she served as his assistant. After her break with Jung, Sabina requested Sigmund Freud to take her on as a patient.  He learned at that time about her long-time affair with Jung, which he had previously believed was just gossip.  Freud was able to use this information as a weapon in his political struggles with Jung.  Sabina Spielrein, putting her psychological problems behind her, went on to become one of the first female psychoanalysts in the history of the field.

The film “A Dangerous Method” is somewhat flawed, in that the script avoids having to explain the theory of psychoanalysis in any depth, for fear supposedly of gross errors in its elucidation.  Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender were each superb in their roles, particularly Mortensen.  Keira Knightley has been criticized, and rightly so, for her exaggerated facial and body movements in the early scenes which depicted her in a state of hysteria.  Let us say, though, that she redeemed herself somewhat in the rest of the film, as she settled into her role as a prominent psychotherapist.  The film is worth watching.


A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein
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