(director: David Cronenberg; screenwriters: Christopher Hampton/based on his stage play “The Talking Cure” and the book “A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein” by John Kerr; cinematographer: Peter Suschitzky; editor: Ronald Sanders; music: Howard Shore; cast: Keira Knightley (Sabina Spielrein), Viggo Mortensen (Sigmund Freud), Michael Fassbender (Carl Jung), Sarah Gadon (Emma Jung), Vincent Cassel (Otto Gross), André Hennicke(Professor Eugen Bleuler); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Jeremy Thomas; Sony Pictures Classics; 2011-Canada/Germany)

“Its eye for detail makes things so real and worthy of a work of scholarship.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Acclaimed Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg(“Videodrome”/”The Dead Zone”/”Spider”), one of the world’s greatest living directors and one of my favorites, brilliantly, accurately, perceptively and sensibly helms this historical drama. The oddly driven film on the workings of the unconscious mind and irrationality of sexual behavior gives us a clear heads up into the beginning days of psychoanalysis. Cronenberg mostly uses the subjects own written letters and journals to verify the truth of their actions depicted here in a nine year span from 1904 to 1913, as it covers the beginning and ending of a friendship between the last century’s two giants in the field of psychology–Freud and Jung–each motivated by personal ambitions to be a leading figure in the field and second to no one else. It was filmed mostly in Germany, which takes the place of the sites in Switzerland that Cronenberg thought no longer looked like they did back then in the early 20th century.

It’s based on the true story of the Russian-born Jewish daughter of a wealthy businessman, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a patient of both Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and later of Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), who was to become a psychoanalyst in Russia and destined for a tragic fate after she had come to terms with her inner demons through psychoanalysis but Europe hadn’t gotten rid of its demons and we learn in the end credits the Nazis captured her Russian town in 1941 and killed her and all the other Jews in it. Sabina came between Freud and Jung but, nevertheless, influenced both to strive to learn more about themselves as they learned more about her and heeded her contribution to psychology that desire is an instinctive threat to one’s ego.Cronenberg’s intelligent, theatrical, restrained and talkative adaptation of Christopher Hampton’s playThe Talking Cure and John Kerr’s non-fiction book A Most Dangerous Method boldly uses the affair Jung had with his patient to let us in on both his ideas and his father-figure mentor Freud’s ideas on how to help neurotics get a better hold of their life through what may be called the method of ‘the talking cure.’

In 1904, 18-year-old Sabina Spielrein arrives by coach in a screaming crazed fit, with body contortions and her jaw jutting out, at Zurich’s Burghölzli Mental Hospital, where the young Dr. Carl Jung will treat her for hysteria. The Vienna dwelling Sabina was recommended to the Protestant Jung, the son of a pastor, by the Jewish Freud, who welcomes Jung’s interest in following his new way of treating neurotics by letting the patients themselves tell the doctor what’s wrong and by use of free-association to reveal repressed things about themselves they may be ashamed about ever facing without such therapy. With no procedure in place on how to perform this novel treatment but understanding Freud didn’t want the patient to face the doctor so as to be influenced by their gestures, Jung, not aware at this time of Freud’s couch, sits behind the patient and she tells of enjoying being whipped by her father as it sexually arouses her. After being successfully treated by this new method, Jung encourages the intelligent patient, with the approval of the clinic’s progressive director, Professor Eugen Bleuler (André Hennicke), to assist him with his other patients and to study at the university to become qualified to be a therapist. When Sabina tries to seduce Jung, married to the wealthy Emma (Sarah Gadon), he at first resists but changes his mind when treating the disturbed but charming Vienna psychoanalyst Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel), another patient sent to him courtesy of Freud. The gentile Gross is a brilliant free-thinking, coke-snorting, libertine, who has a troubling Oedipal relation with his scientist doctor dad and is all id–the dark unconscious territory where the monsters and our feral sides dwell. Jung finally succumbs to Otto’s appealing argument to not repress anything and give the patient what she wants, and the virgin Sabina becomes his mistress.

The strains between Freud and Jung grow out of Jung, at his first meeting in Vienna with Freud, questioning the seductive authoritarian psychoanalyst’s dogmatic belief that every neuroses could be explained as a sexual problem and that Jung wanted to bring his mystic beliefs into play as part of psychology but was told he couldn’t. Jung’s insistence on mysticism being part of psychology made Freud paranoid, as he feared his methods would then be criticized for not being scientific and in anti-Semitic Austria, something Jung was oblivious about, where Jews couldn’t even receive government positions, Freud was sure critics would surface ready to use this unscientific probe into spiritualism and the paranormal as an excuse to not accept such questionable theories from Freud’s mostly Jewish followers.

It’s an unnerving film, that is smashing as a case study and invigorating as drama and enlightening as a look at the significant personalities that shaped the direction of modern psychology. It indeed shows us a dangerous, limited and controversial method uncovered to treat the mentally ill, in a film that is so well-researched, the acting is so superb (there’s a tremendous chemistry between all the characters and an ability by them to inhabit their characters so well), the Wagner music is so fitting for the mythical story and that its eye for detail makes things so real and worthy of a work of scholarship. It’s a film that can make you feel guilty for repressing things and anxious for being so open, yet be so goofy in the way it conveys its ideas even if it’s so heady a film. It’s a film for the demanding film-goer who wants to get off with a real mindbender, one that explores both the dark and light aspects to sexual desire in order to ponder what we really are like as humans by looking inward–just like the rivals Freud and Jung did their entire lives, in their own scientific ways.

REVIEWED ON 4/9/2012 GRADE: A   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/