Sex yo. It makes otherwise dignified people lose their shit. David Cronenberg's latest film, A Dangerous Method, explores this unfortunate fact of life via the story of Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen, Cronenberg's muse), and Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley).
What A Dangerous Method has been most praised for since its release is Keira Knightley's portrayal of Sabina Spielrein. Most notably, the writhing of her body and the frequent outer jutting of her jaw when she expresses emotional agony is what makes the viewer cringe and squirm with uncomfortableness. It truly is the mark of a great actor when you can elicit that sort of response from an audience.
Spielrein arrived at the Burghölzli mental institution in Zurich in 1904. Jung was a respected psychiatrist working there at that time. Already aware of Spielrein's desire to pursue psychiatry, Jung paid special attention to her case. Spielrein's history of physical abuse from her father is treated by Jung using the method of psychoanalysis proposed by Freud. It is, in fact, Spielrein's case that brings Freud and Jung together for a discussion about the future of psychiatry.
The screenplay, written by Christopher Hampton--no stranger to the historical genre or working on a film with Keira Knightley--(based on a CV that consists of Atonement, The Quiet American, and Mary Reilly), was adapted from John Kerr's 1993 non-fiction novel, A Most Dangerous Method. How close to the truth the relationship depicted in the film is can never be known for sure, though the sexual nature of Jung and Spielrein's rapport has been adamantly suggested by a number of psychoanalysts and historians, including Peter Loewenberg, a respected professor at UCLA.
While, at first, it seems as though Jung is the most in control--the least likely to crumble under emotional pressure--he takes on a new patient named Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel), a fellow psychoanalyst and Freud enthusiast. Gross' trumpeting of a hedonistic type of lifestyle, one in which monogamy is not an option, begins to influence Jung's feelings of lust for Spielrein. The salacious soliloquies of Gross awaken within Jung something he had long tried to repress: The acknowledgment of his sexuality. Seeing how tightly Jung is wound, Gross warns, "If there is one thing I've learned in my short life, it is this: Never repress anything."
The embracing and renouncing of Freud's theories begin to take a toll on Jung as he grapples with letting go of Spielrein, who is less than amenable to the notion of losing her hours of S&M fun. This is part of a greater schism that occurs between Jung and Freud, who has, by this time, become a sort of patriarch to the blossoming psychiatrist. Their friendship turns into a rivalry, for neither can cede to the other's viewpoint on the field. But at least Spielrein's in the mix to promote an air of neutrality and sultriness. Psychiatry definitely needed a woman's touch, so thanks for that Miss Spielrein.