A Dangerous Method


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

A Dangerous Method is a portrayal of the relationships among four pioneers in psychoanalysis: Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Sabina Spielrein, and Otto Gross.

In a nutshell, here's how they interacted in real life:

Speilrein was a rich, troubled teenager who was sent to Jung's clinic in Zurich by her family, who could not longer control her seizures at home. Jung took on her case personally and decided to use Freud's new technique of "talking therapy." Speilrein's problems stemmed from the fact that her father spanked her naked body and that she took pleasure from it, often masturbating afterwards. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that Speilrein had been raised in a sheltered environment and did not understand the actual nature of sexual contact. Speilrein could not understand or accept her own sexual response to bering punished by her father, and apparently turned her guilt into external manifestations of apparent madness. Jung was successful in bringing Speilrein into a controlled state of mind, but in the process became attracted to her.

Soon after taking the Speilrein case, Jung traveled to Vienna to meet Freud himself. Among other things in their original 13-hour discussion, the two geniuses touched upon Speilrein's treatment. The two men formed an instant friendship. Freud was so impressed with Jung's clinical skills that he sent him one of his own patients, a fellow therapist named Otto Gross. In the course of the Gross-Jung discussions, the free-thinking and uninhibited Gross planted in Jung's mind the idea that it would not be such a bad idea to have sex with a patient like Miss Speilrein. It was not so much later that Jung would be deflowering his patient, which began a seven-year affair, followed by another nine years of correspondence.

This relationship was obviously a breach of patient-doctor trust, not to mention a real danger to Jung's marriage to a refined and rich woman. Jung first tried to justify his misbehavior to Freud by portraying Speilrein as his seductress. Freud then wrote to Speilrein to chastise her. Speilrein was outraged and demanded that Jung write back to Freud and explain in detail how they really came to be lovers. Jung eventually clarified the situation to Freud, and the three of them continued to interact for many years, during which time Speilrein herself became a psychoanalyst. Many people say that Freud and Jung began their friendship over Speilrein, and ended it the same way. Others say that the Speilrein case started their rift, but the men really split because Freud was appalled by the non-scientific side of Jung's personality, which led him into alchemy, spirituality, ESP, Eastern mysticism, and astrology. Still others say that their break was merely professional, based upon Freud's unwillingness to accept Jung as an equal who diverged in many places from Freud's principles.

All of the above is portrayed with more or less scrupulous accuracy in the film, based upon the historical evidence, especially various letters exchanged by the principals. Where the film gets off into the world of imagination is in picturing the exact nature of the sexual relations between Jung (Michael Fassbinder) and Speilrein (Keira Knightley). The following portions of the film's plot are NOT justified by historical sources:

Since Speilrein experienced pleasure from being humiliated, Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel) counseled Jung to pleasure her by "thrashing her within an inch of her life, as she clearly wants." Jung eventually did just that, giving Speilrein pleasure by whipping her buttocks. When a guilty Jung, a practicing Catholic, tried to break off the relationship, Speilrein persuaded him to stay with her by suggesting that he analyze his own sexual needs and determine which of those could not be satisfied by his wife. Since Jung obviously took pleasure in the sadistic part of the S&M relationship with Speilrein, and could not bring himself to suggest anything similar to his beloved and dignified wife, the sessions with Speilrein were deemed essential to his own sexual satisfaction. The Jung-Speilrein spanking sessions are portrayed in some fairly graphic detail on screen. While Keira Knightley's bare bum is never actually seen on camera, her breasts are bare in these sessions, and her facial expressions show her becoming intensely aroused by the humiliation.

The on-camera spankings may sound sensational to you, especially since nobody knows what the Jung/Speilrein relationship really consisted of, but I was grateful for those moments, which supplied the only life in the film, except for the very brief appearance of Cassel as the weaselly wastrel Otto Gross. The rest of the film is based on a dry, dense non-fiction tome called "A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung Freud and Sabrina Speilrein," and basically is an accurate account of historical figures reading one another's letters aloud or discussing complex clinical theories in small, dark rooms.

There was one major outdoor scene, and it provided my favorite scene in the film, the only scene which indicated that anyone associated with the film had a sense of humor or could tell a story with images rather than words. Jung takes Freud out for a sail. Jung looks like any sailor at sea, ruggedly working his sail and his rudder, occasionally making a statement in a voice loud enough to be heard over the wind by a man several feet away. Freud, on the other hand, sits awkwardly and stiffly on the deck as he tries to have a serious conversation in a controlled indoor voice.
Freud holds a walking stick in one hand, and wears a hamburg. As the camera assumes Jung's vantage point, we can only see Freud's head and shoulders. His low position within the boat and his inappropriate attire make Freud look for all the world like Toulouse Lautrec. For all Freud seems to know, he might just as well be in his office or a Viennese cafe, except that the floor is moving and things seem to be moist and windy around him. Freud, who spent an entire life studying the nature of pleasure, seems incapable of feeling any himself.

This correlates well with another scene in which the profligate Otto Gross speculates that the only reason Freud thinks about sex so much is that he isn't getting laid.

Analyze THAT, shrink-boy.


Source (non-fiction)
Related docudrama


3.5 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
79 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
76 Metacritic.com (of 100)


7.0 IMDB summary (of 10)


Box Office Mojo. In arthouse distribution (61 theaters), in managed to gross about $2 million.


  • Keira Knightley showed her breasts (but surprisingly not her butt) in two scenes where she got her bottom whipped.


Web www.scoopy.com

Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


Dry, dense, almost documentary treatment. A good movie, but one designed for a very small audience.