Saturday, January 21, 2012

Psychological Intrigue

Earlier today, I finally made it to see A Dangerous Method, about Carl Jung and the patient he treats through an innovative new process known as "the talking cure", that was created by famous psychiatrist Sigmund Freud. As a huge fan of biopics and with a growing interest in psychology, this film was absolutely must-see for me. The reviews I had read played up the "love triangle" aspect, but after the film concluded, I can gladly say that it was not. Though I learned a lot more about Carl Jung than I currently know about him, I did not realize that he was unfaithful to his wife (or had an "open marriage").

The film opens with Sabina Spielrein (played by Keira Knightley) screaming in a carriage as she is taken to the institute where Carl Jung (played by Michael Fassbender) works to be put under his care. She's deeply troubled and when he suggests that she start talking while he sits behind her to listen, she can barely get words out (I actually hated these scenes because the way Knightley speaks--with the bottom part of her mouth extended out like a fish--is not particularly enjoyable to watch. She's a beautiful lady, but her facial expression are truly ugly to watch). She's traumatized by events in her past and acts with wild abandon (including swimming around a muddy pond in her white dress).

Early on, Jung remarks to his wife about the amazing timing between two events and then says, "I don't believe in coincidence." Jung, of course, is known for coining the expression "synchronicity" (as well as "archetypes" and the personality traits of introversion and extroversion). He decides to pay a visit to Sigmund Freud's place in Vienna. Viggo Mortensen plays Freud. He does such a great job, that I really did forget that it was Viggo as he disappeared into the role. Freud is a supporting character in this film, but in every scene, there's a cigar in his mouth (Freud is known for saying: "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar"). Their first meeting sparks a conversation that lasts 13 hours. Its like a meeting of two souls who finally got to meet on the earthly plane and played catch-up without realizing that time flew by during their conversation.

Their friendship begins and they write letters to one another, and meet occasionally. Freud sees Jung as his protege and the one who will carry on his work in making psychoanalysis / psychiatry a respected science. In one of the most electrifying scenes I've ever seen, Freud and Jung argue about their different approaches to the field. Freud wants to follow strict protocol in order to be considered legitimate among the academic elite of that era. Jung is interested in metaphysical aspects and wants the freedom to explore subjects that Jung believes will bring ill repute to their profession. When a loud crack is heard, Freud is dismissive of it while Jung claims that it coincided with a feeling he had in his gut and he swore it would happen again.

Freud sends a former protege to be under Jung's care, but this turns out to be disastrous. Jung ends up disagreeing with the troubled psychologist, who has a tendency to sleep with his patients, which Jung finds unprofessional. Yet, that patient's advice ends up influencing Jung to have a physical relationship with his former patient Spielrein. When word gets around that Jung has a mistress, even Freud was able to hear those rumours and asks his protege about it. Jung denies the rumours and tells Spielrein that they can't carry on any more. Of course, she can't handle the rejection so she demands that Jung ask his mentor to take her on as a patient. Freud refuses to intervene in a personality clash until Jung is forced to admit his deception regarding his relationship. It was difficult to see that Freud was the more professional one, while the psychiatrist I prefer comes off as reckless.

Jung and Freud travel to America together, but all we get to see is the ship (and the Statue of Liberty). During the voyage, the two men talk about dreams, though Jung is stunned that Freud won't reveal his dreams for Jung to analyze. The two men eventually have a break and their friendship (mentorship / protege relationship) ends after a decade. I was stunned that it lasted only a decade, for I thought it was a lifetime. I knew about the differences that caused the break, though. I agree with Jung's analysis. In the film, Jung complains that Freud is too obsessed with the idea that all problems can be boiled down to sex. He doesn't believe anything is as simple as that.

This movie is a fascinating look at the friendship between two famous men in the early part of last century. Michael Fassbender is phenomenal in his role as Carl Jung. I'd give him the Best Actor Oscar for his performance. I also had no idea that Jung was such a snazzy dresser. His suits looked sharp (I want to dress like him!). Viggo Mortensen also did a great job as Freud. Any scene with the two of them were just electric. I loved hearing them talk back and forth about various ideas in the realm of psychology. This film made me think that maybe I picked the wrong major in college. But, I actually only became interested in psychology AFTER my college experience.

In period films, its always interesting to me that the women always seem to have elaborate and memorable hats. Perhaps the costume designers think that this is "Oscar bait." I certainly hope that the Oscars will give this movie major nominations (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay), but I'm not sure if it made any critics' best of 2011 lists. It was shut out of the Golden Globes, which is considered the bellwether for Oscar. Regardless of what the Academy decides, this is a great film worth seeing, just to get an idea of what a friendship and conversations were like between two famous men of the early 20th Century. In one telling scene, Freud advises Spielrein not to fall in love with Jung, because they are both Jews and Jung is an Aryan. Freud seemed to have a keen understanding of where anti-semitism was heading in that century. But he had no idea that more people would be influenced by Jung's ideas than his. I don't think that's a coincidence.

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