The Life of the Mind

David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method is at once a lucid movie of ideas, a compelling narrative, and a splendidly acted love story involving Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), and Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), the near-forgotten patient-turned-disciple who confounded both men en route to her own tragic destiny. The movie opens like an electrified gothic novel with freaked-out, wild-eyed Spielrein hurtling by coach through the Swiss countryside. Her destination is the clinic where young Dr. Jung is experimenting with Dr. Freud's newfangled talking cure. Hysteria seems too mild a word for her teeth-gnashing, air-clawing behavior. Jung — a pastor's son with a thing for Jewish women as well as the so-called Jewish science — is intrigued. Liberated by therapy, Spielrein eventually propositions her married doctor. Later, she contacts his mentor Freud to propose herself as a patient. Caught between two geniuses, Spielrein is the movie's true subject. Sensing her unresolved attachment to the ultra-civilized Jung, Freud warns her against putting her faith in Aryans. "We're Jews, Miss Spielrein." Jung has some intimations of his own, dreaming at the end that Lake Geneva is filled with corpses. This is followed by a written postscript of his fate and hers: The doctor lived a long life by his Alpine lake; the patient was murdered by the Nazis. Less a footnote to history than its embodiment, Spielrein now seems a quintessential European who successfully mastered her own demons only to be consumed by the full force of 20th-century irrationality.
Dec. 16-22, 2011

 
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