Directed by David Cronenberg, A Dangerous Method attempts two agendas—to show us how the genesis of Sigmund Freud’s genius (psychotherapy) inspires and alienates Carl Jung and how Jung’s affair with a patient unravels his life. Starring Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley and Viggo Mortensen, the movie adequately portrays each agenda but fails to correlate them seamlessly. That seems to be my job here.
What fuels the tension between Freud and Jung? Freud, for his part, refuses to abide any alterations of his talk theory. No matter that this leaves his patients more self-aware because he leaves them without prescriptions—without hope. Jung wants to explore avenues for those prescriptions, whether that be mysticism, dream theory, and any other approach yet to be considered that has the least chance of working. Freud wants no part of the therapist as curer. And he resents Jung’s attempts to consider that role. Think of Freud as Creon, although much older, who’s not willing to tolerate the young upstart’s (a male Antigone) new ideas and loyalties. After all, Freud’s done all the work—listening to his patients drone on for hundreds of hours about mommy and daddy stuff, then, churning all that yakking into sex, sex, sex. Now, Jung comes along and it’s dream imagery this and archetypes that. There may be sex but there’s no guarantee. So, Freud thinks, what’s the point of listening? (I’m projecting, I confess.)
Or is the tension between teacher and student fueled by something more basic? Like jealousy? Jung has this very, very disturbed (and hot) Russian female patient with whom he violates the rules of psychotherapy. Yes, he becomes her lover. But worse, he cures her. She walks right, talks right, becomes a psychiatrist, and functions as a friend and professional. She forgives Jung his transgression and tries to console him after his life with his family and patients has deteriorated into a series of patient-mistress affairs. Think of that iconic scene (or will be some day) in The Artist when the silent movie actor is descending the stairs and the talking picture ingénue is ascending. Sad, but it’s the way of the world, of course. Your patients, like your students, exceed your achievements and status. Ironically, Jung doesn’t seem to value that his patient’s transformation embodies a great professional success for him–the goal of prescription he so fervently sought, despite Freud’s disapproval and professional rejection.
I suspect that’s what has upset Freud more than Jung flexing his psychiatric muscles or having his patient affair. Jung’s patient improves—something that Freud claims lies beyond his interests. Or does he actually realize (at some semi-/unconscious level) that curing lies beyond his talents, a I suspect that it does?
Does the movie suggest that Freud’s aversion to Jung’s explorations reveals the teacher’s professional jealousy? Not really. But it should have, for that would have connected the two agendas.
Of course, if Freud were reviewing this film, he would likely project that his character’s ire is sexually driven: he’s jealous of this younger, more sexually potent rival.
You chose which analysis you prefer. Our time is up.