Review - A film that doesn't stand up to analysis

17th February 2012 at 00:00

"It's generally thought to be the man who takes the initiative," says Carl Jung, when Sabina Spielrein leans in and kisses him.

"Don't you think there's something male in every woman and something female in every man?" Spielrein replies.

Oh, yes. She is attempting to seduce Jung by reciting his own theories at him. (Roughly: the unconscious female mind incorporates an animus, or male part, and the male mind an anima, or female part.) No wonder he is smitten.

In fact, A Dangerous Method, the film chronicling Jung's relationships - sexually with Spielrein and intellectually with Sigmund Freud - could function as a rough guide to basic psychoanalysis.

Isn't it funny, Jung (Michael Fassbender) muses, that not long after writing a paper in which he gave a patient the pseudonym "Sabina S", a real Sabina S has been admitted, ranting and raving, to his clinic. "Quite a coincidence," says Mrs Jung. "You know I don't believe in such things," her husband retorts.

Spielrein (Keira Knightley) is given the pioneering new talking cure: psychoanalysis. Within a few sessions, Jung - apparently the world's most efficient analyst - has her admitting that, as a child, she was turned on whenever her father spanked her. "Aha," say the viewers, stroking our collective chin.

Jung then employs Spielrein as his assistant, blatantly disregarding the potential effects on transference. (Transference is what happens when you think you want to sleep with your analyst, but actually you just have unresolved feelings for your abusive father.)

Elsewhere, Jung's own unresolved father issues are being taken out on Freud (Viggo Mortensen). He disagrees with the older man's tendency to reduce everything to sex. Freud, meanwhile, puffs on a succession of large cigars.

Then Freud sends sexually insatiable analyst Otto Gross to work with Jung. Jung insists that sexual desire for patients must be repressed. "If there's one thing I've learnt," Gross tells Jung, "it's this: never repress anything."

Yes. Otto Gross is Carl Jung's id; his pleasure principle made manifest.

So firmly established in 21st-century consciousness is the lexicon of psycho-analysis that it is hard to take a film like this seriously. And we never care quite enough about the characters. Jung's affair with Spielrein does not develop beyond the playing out of two people's complementary neuroses. And if Jung always disagreed with Freud about sex, and Freud always thought Jung's fondness for mysticism a bit loopy, there seems no motive for a dramatic break.

Essentially, this film needs more time on the couch, examining its emotions.

A Dangerous Method is in cinemas now.

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