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"A Dangerous Method": Cronenberg Examines the Birth of Psychoanalysis 

Wednesday, Dec 14 2011
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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.

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J. Hoberman

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