Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Dangerous Method [2011]

MPAA (R) Roger Ebert (3 1/2 Stars) Fr. Dennis (2 Stars)

IMDb listing -
Roger Ebert's review -

I found A Dangerous Method (directed by David Cronenberg, screenplay by Christopher Hampton based on the book A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr and the play The Talking Cure by Christopher Hampton), a potentially rich bio-pic and early 20th century period piece to be remarkably disappointing.

I found it to be so in good part because I had read actually quite extensively from their works which would find application to my field.

Of Sigmund Freud, I have read Totem and Taboo [1913], Civilization and its Discontents [1930], and Moses and Monotheism [1939].

Of Carl Jung I have read various essays (in Italian translation) available through the Bollati Boringhieri series of translated essays/monographs available in Italy while did my seminary studies there in the 1990s.  I had already known of Carl Jung from my novitiate in the United States and I had found the Bollati Boringhieri series a joy to read because one could purchase Carl Jung's essays essentially a la carte.  Among those that I read at the time were: La Psicolologia del Sogno (The Psychology of Dreams), Risposta a Giobbe (Response to Job), La Vita Simbolica (The Symbolic Life), Gli Archetypi dell'Inconscio Collettivo (The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious).  Additionally, during my last year in the seminary in Rome, I read in English translation C.J. Jung's famous essay A Psychological Approach to the Doctrine of the Trinity [1936] published in C.J. Jung, Collected Works, Vol 11, Psychology and Religion - East and West [1970]).

I had also known of the famous break between Sigmund Freud and the younger Carl Jung.  So I had come to this movie with rather high hopes that the film would help explain the cause of the break, which I always assumed had been driven largely (though not entirely) by egos.  But I left the film disappointed.

I did learn a number of things about the private life of Carl Jung (played here by Michael Fassbender), notably that he had a rather rich wife Emma (played by Sarah Gadon) and he did find himself with several mistresses during his life including Sabina Spielrein (played here by Keira Knightly) who was first his patient, then his student and finally a psychologist in her own right.

I also left the film being able to appreciate a little better the truly remarkable time in which Freud and Jung had lived.  At one point, Freud (played in the movie by Viggo Mortensen) compared his and Jung's burgeoning field of psychology to the discovery of a New Continent, saying: 

"Columbus did not know where he arrived when he reached the New World.  No one did for another 100 years.  We do not know as yet where we've actually arrived but having discovered this new continent [of the subconscious] I'm certainly going to explore it."

To which Jung is presented as adding: "I'd rather compare you to Galileo, who was being condemned by his enemies even as they refused to look into the looking glass of the telescope that he invented [with which he made the observations on which he based his theories]."

But alas, the two came to part ways.  Freud wished to continue to study/interpret nearly all psychological phenenomena "scientifically" through application of his concept of the libido (sex drive).  Carl Jung did not wish to be so constrained.  And just as the Marxists (and more recently our era's Market Capitalists) had drifted into dogmatism with regard to economic theory, so did eventually both Freud and Jung with regards to psychology.  [Still, if one understands that the "scientific" approaches taken with regards to economics or psychology are necessarily broad-brush in nature, all these approaches have definite value, albeit with limits].   

Be all this as it may, I've told a number of people after seeing this film that I would have happily sat through if it was 3 hours long especially if it got into the genesis of some of Freud's and Jung's ideas.  Instead, film wasn't even 2 hours long (coming in at 1:39).  So came across to me as a very thin soup: One got only a few gossipy tidbits about the two men, Freud and Jung (and about the two women in Jung's life at the time).  However, we really could have gotten so much more.

One thinks simply of the movie Shadowlands [1993] about a rather complicated, interesting and (in his own words) "surprising" period in the life of philosopher/theologian C.S. Lewis (a contemporary of both Freud and Jung) and one wants to weep:  Surely one could have done much more in making a film about Freud and Jung (and the significant women around them) than was done here.

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1 comment:

  1. Good review. The performances are good, even though Knightley may be over-acting quite a bit, and it looks great, but the film also just feels like a series of vignettes with no real feeling or drama to it. Basically what I’m trying to say was that I was bored and this story just never really got off the ground.