Film / A Dangerous Method

I think Freud's obsession with sex probably has a great deal to do with the fact that he never gets any.

A Dangerous Method is a 2011 period drama directed by David Cronenberg. It concerns the beginning of Carl Jung's (Michael Fassbender) career in psychoanalysis, told through his relationships with a patient, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), and his mentor, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen).

Jung, an up and coming Swiss doctor, is working at a sanatorium when he begins to treat a certain Sabina Spielrein. Sabina, a Russian Jew, is hysterical, and Jung decides to try the "talking cure" being popularized by Freud in Vienna. The treatment proves successful, and Sabina returns to medical school, staying in contact with Jung. The two develop a romantic relationship, with Jung dissatisfied with his marriage to a young Swiss heiress. Their affair is intellectual (exploring Jung's fascination with memes and classic archetypes) and sexual (exploring Sabina's masochism in a consensual environment). Eventually, the guilt of his infidelity overwhelms Jung (as well as rumors revealing its existence to the public), and he ends the affair despite Sabina's vehement opposition. Eventually, the two reconcile and re-initiate their affair, but this time, Sabina breaks it off to go work in Vienna with Freud.

Meanwhile, Jung and Freud begin a correspondence. While impressed with Freud, Jung has reservations about his rigidly sexual approach to the human psyche. Freud brands Jung his successor and heir, reinforcing the paternalistic relationship. The two collaborate but continue to grow apart for a variety of reasons: Jung denies that all psychology is sexual and final, while Freud denounces Jung's interest in non-traditional venues of psychological study, which he calls "mystical nonsense." The two also chafe at their sociopolitical differences; Freud an Austrian Jew with little expendable income, and Jung a wealthy Swiss Protestant. This is all complicated by Jung's affair with Sabina; the young woman turns to Freud after their affair ends, and Jung feels betrayed, convinced she has chosen Freud's interpretation of psychoanalysis over his.

The film ends with Jung approaching a nervous breakdown, cut off by Freud and Sabina.

This film contains examples of:

  • All Psychology Is Freudian: Played straight; even as Jung splits from Freud, his methodology is based in Freud's work.
  • Big Applesauce: Jung and Freud visit America for a psychological conference, and the only shot is of their boat approaching Manhattan.
  • Biopic: The film only covers 12 years of Jung's life but touches on most of the arcs of his biography.
  • Break Them by Talking: Gross to Jung.
  • Broken Pedestal: Freud gradually becomes one for Jung, who laments that his master is seeking obedient disciples rather than colleagues.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Dr. Otto Gross - a neurotic kleptomaniac who is considered to be one of the best in his field by Freud himself.
  • Carl Jung: The film portrays him as a conflicted figure, if ultimately correct.
  • Character Development: Jung and Sabina, in particular, grow to be very complex characters.
  • Cigar Chomper: Freud is quite the cigar aficionado.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Jung claims to have been experiencing bouts of ESP his entire life, and in one scene (set in 1914), describes a dream where Northern Europe is drowned in a tidal wave of blood.
  • The Edwardian Era
  • Eternal Sexual Freedom: Subverted. While Jung's conversations with Otto Gross about monogamy are radical, they are treated as such.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: The mental health variety with Jung and Sabina.
  • Freudian Couch: Averted. Strangely, never makes an appearance. Everyone conducts their therapy while seated upright.
  • Freudian Excuse: Played straight. Sabina reveals, during therapy, that her masochism stems from the violent punishments she received as a child from her father.
  • Freud Was Right: Part of the crux is the in-universe dispute whether he is or not. At least he was right in Sabina's case, concerning the sexual roots of her hysteria. David Cronenberg and Mortensen have stated that they are totally pro-Freud and believe that he was in the right.
  • The Hedonist: Otto Gross, who never repress any urges and advocates for the opposite, serving as The Corrupter for Jung.
  • Id, Superego and Ego: an interesting case - the simplest interpretation is to identify Jung with Ego, Emma with Superego and Sabina with Id, but Freud also has a traces of Superego (in reference to Jung's Ego) in him.
  • It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY"!: Freud corrects Jung on the name of the method, it's pronounced PSYCHO-analisis.
  • Laughing Mad: Sabina, during the onset of hysteria.
  • Lighter and Softer: One of David Cronenberg's most mainstream films, notably lacking the Body Horror and extreme violence of his other movies.
  • Mad Love: Played with. Arguably, Sabina goes from hysterical to reasonably sane, while Jung feels his mind coming apart over the course of the film. Their affair falls at a point where the two are equally "crazy."
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Jung proposes to explore what can now be called supernatural, parapsychological elements, but Freud rebukes him.
  • The Mistress: Sabina and later Toni Wolff, a Replacement Goldfish for Jung.
  • Nipple and Dimed
  • The One That Got Away: Sabina and Jung, for each other.
  • Passing the Torch: Freud is looking for an intellectual son, but both Gross and Jung disappoint him.
  • Pervert Dad: Sabina's father had her strip naked for her spankings.
  • Psycho Ex-Girlfriend: Sabina towards Jung, for some time.
  • Psycho Psychologist: Subverted with Sabina, played straight with Otto. When Sabina mentions her ambition to be a therapist, Jung approves, saying "We need insane doctors. Sane ones are so limited." Otto, on the other hand, sleeps with all of his patients and encourages suicide if he deems it an appropriate solution.
  • Rule of Symbolism: take a look at Freud when he asks Jung about Sabina's virginity.
  • Sex as Rite-of-Passage: Sabina.
  • Sigmund Freud: The film plays up Freud's paternalistic and paranoid tendencies, portraying him as a sort of passive-aggressive antagonist.
  • Single-Issue Psychology: Lampshaded. While Sabina's therapy reveals a sexual trauma is the root of her masochism, Jung criticizes Freud for being so obsessed with sex as the root of all human psychology.
  • Slave to PR: Freud is wary of Jung's parapsychological approach before any preliminary evaluation is done because it will be used as a weapon by their detractors, who are eager to discredit Freud as a wacko.
  • Stepford Smiler: Emma Jung.
  • Student and Master Team: Freud-Jung-Sabina.
  • Talkative Loon: Sabina, at the beginning of the film.
  • There Are No Coincidences: Jung is a firm believer in this, drawing on personal experience.
  • Trickster Mentor: Otto Gross. While nominally, he is Jung's patient, Otto's conversations with the doctor help shape Jung's attitude and philosophy.
  • The Unfettered: Otto Gross. A classic case, as he ignores social mores as he pursues a singular goal of pleasure before death. It also helps that he runs in affluent circles, so he doesn't have to pay for much.
  • Virgin Tension: with Sabina.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The ending explains the characters' ultimate fates. Otto died of starvation in Berlin in 1920; Freud was driven out of Austria by the Nazis and later died in 1939 of cancer, an exile in London; Sabina was executed by Nazis during the invasion on Rostov-on-Don; and Jung ultimately came out of his experiences changed for the better, becoming one of the most respected psychologists of his time for as long as he lived, eventually dying peacefully in 1961.
  • Woman in White: Sabina, Emma, and most other women in the film.
  • Word Association Test: Performed by Jung with Emma as a subject and Sabina as an assistant and an interpreter.
  • Yandere: Averted. While Sabina's reaction to the end of the affair is emotional, she refuses to explicitly blackmail Jung, mostly emotionally wounding him by demanding a referral to Freud.
  • You Need to Get Laid:
    Otto Gross: I think Freud's obsession with sex probably has a great deal to do with the fact that he never gets any.