A (Less) Dangerous Method: History vs. Hollywood

April 13, 2012

105500758A Dangerous Method is a gripping historical film mixing sex and psychoanalysis, while depicting the demise of the most influential relationship in psycho-history: the bond between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud.

The film shows Freud protecting his “authority” by not sharing a revealing dream, but omits the crucial importance of dreams in Freud & Jung’s discoveries.

This, and a few other historical ‘tweaks’, make room for a sexier storyline, creating the controversy that makes this film so compelling. Nevertheless, let’s take a few moments to separate history from Hollywood, and call a cigar a, well…

Jung & Spielrein: Sex Heals vs. Sex Sells
Jung did have an affair with his patient, Sabina Spielrein, and he did lie to Freud about it. It’s also true that Jung traced Spielrein’s symptoms to sexual fixation on being beaten by her father. There is, however, no evidence that Jung spanked Spielrein for sexual pleasure, or that he considered this part of her “cure.”
Freud & Jung: Death and Rebirth
The film focuses on Jung’s respect for, and disagreements with, Freud’s revolutionary contribution to psychoanalysis. But that’s just the beginning of Jung’s story. In reality, the friendship between Freud and Jung lasted only six years, during which time psychoanalysis underwent an intense transformation. Their fallout was tragic for both men, and precipitated Jung’s nervous breakdown. However, now free to think in his own way (to “individuate”), Jung emerged to create an enormously influential body of work that has outlived many of Freud’s ideas.

Spielrein’s Rise: A Shadowy Ascent
As the film depicts, Carl Jung’s therapy with Spielrein was highly successful, and she went on to become an acclaimed psychoanalyst herself. Her rise, however, was both helped and overshadowed by her highly influential mentors. Some of Spielrein’s powerful ideas are appropriated by both Frued and Jung in their own work, and her influence on them receives little acknowledgment until papers published well after her murder in 1942. More on Spielrein.

This well made film accurately depicts the dynamics between Freud and Jung during this critical era of their lives, as well as the emergence of the now popular “talking cure”. Perhaps it’s also an entertaining reminder that replacing history with Hollywood can be a dangerous method indeed.

Sabina Spielrein, 1885 - 1942

Sabina Spielrein, 1885 – 1942


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