Heidekolb's Blog

A Dangerous Method ~ The Movie ~ Jungian Reflections, Part 1 | November 24, 2011

Please go and see this movie > adangerousmethod ~ It is a good one. I know I will see this film more than once. There is such a richness to it. It takes us back to when it all began. It takes us back to the old world of Victorian Vienna and Zurich, a period of suffocating moral constraints, yet also a period that brought forth new manifestations of a changing consciousness. It takes us back to a time before Jung was Jung, when Freud was the enfant terrible of Viennese’ medical world and that mysterious, and yes, most dangerous method of what eventually became the talking cure of Freud’s psychoanalysis and Jung’s analytical psychology were still a bloody mess. David Cronenberg, the movie’s director, provides us with a glimpse into the labor pangs of one of the most important cultural events of the 20th century, the birth of the therapeutic, analytic relationship, albeit an endangered species today.

Freud, Spielrein and Jung, portrayed by Viggo Mortensen, Keira Knightley and Michael Fassbender

The film introduces us to these three players of this birthing process. While Freud and Jung are household names in psychological circles, very few are aware of how Sabina Spielrein contributed to the formulation of psychoanalytic theory.  After all, she was not only a woman, but also a sick and troubled patient. It is much less known that she eventually became one of the first female psychoanalysts and that as muse for both men, she not only inspired significant ideas in their theories, but may have in fact verbalized important concepts for the first time, without ever being credited for any of them.

I attended a screening of this film. David Cronenberg was present for a Q & A. In one of his comments he remarked on how he was primarily interested in showing that new relational territory Jung had entered with his patient/most likely lover Sabina Spielrein. Cronenberg was not interested in elevating or demonizing any of the players of that curious love triangle. It seemed he rather payed homage to Jung’s and Spielrein’s courage as they stumbled and fell into their desires and fears lurking out of the recesses of their psyches.

They did not yet know what they were getting into as Jung put Freud’s theory into practice. Boundaries were not yet clearly delineated of what was to become the sacred, precocious and highly dangerous space of the analyst/patient relationship. May we withhold all judgment for now, as Cronenberg did so beautifully in his film, and simply honor the courage and tricksterish folly as Jung and Spielrein ventured deeper into new territory of their inner landscape.

A unique relationship develops as  patients dare to find words for the images sent forth from their psyches’ secret chambers. The analyst must follow and relate without judgment. The process of following and relating in earnest will take the analyst to unknown, possibly frightening and dangerous places within himself. This is the nature of the work. It is its excitement and its danger.

This openness towards another is erotic in its truest sense. Yet we must remember that Eros is a god, an archetypal force, that can and often does wreak havoc with our minds and personas, especially if they are built on the shaky grounds of collective values.

The psychoanalytic relationship has become much more refined but has also lost much zest and verve since its early inception. We do know now that sexual contact with patients causes tremendous, sometimes irreparable harm to their psyches and is to be resisted at all cost, even if desired and initiated by the patient. (I believe this to be true not only for psychoanalysts, therapists, but for most teachers, mentors, practitioners and “gurus” of all creeds). Yet while the concrete enactment must be denied, the often heart and gut wrenching power of eros, which may or may not manifest in a sexual way, needs to be consciously held, sometimes even suffered in any analysis worth its salt. But without love there is not much chance for transformation. Yet the shadow of authentic eros is power driven predation and the field of psychotherapy has seen its fair share of it, and still does in many ways.

There is much to learn from the courage and mistakes of our analytic ancestors. It takes courage to see and be seen and to relate and accept what is within ourselves and the other. Mistakes will happen in all our relational lives, inside and outside the consultation room. It takes even more courage to acknowledge them as such.

Salute to the bravery of all the seekers, patients and analysts, analysts and patients as they subject themselves to mutual scrutiny.

The film is based on John Kerr‘s scholarly and carefully researched book with (almost) the same title  ~ A Most Dangerous Method ~  an excellent book, I highly recommend it.

For those who wish to dive deeper into the history of psychoanalysis I suggest, The Discovery of the Unconscious by Henri Ellenberger.


  1. Thanks for heads up on this film.
    The issue of Eros is indeed crucial.
    Falling into love with another
    is a way of revealing the depths.
    Ironically, maintaining the tension,
    by not consummating,
    can lead deeper still.

    Yet there may come a point
    where consummation
    is the only way
    to continue the journey.

    The tension of the opposites
    will take us far,
    but sometimes
    the fates require more.
    As I am often want to say,
    what the fates decree,
    even the gods must obey.

    Comment by yamabuki — November 24, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

  2. I will check to see if I can buy this movie here in China as it is extremely unlikely that it would show up at a theatre near me. As I continue my study of Jung’s works and consider how individuation is in many ways an act of becoming transparent or “skyclad,” I do understand how “Eros” plays a role in the analytic process. One cannot deny parts of the self simply to be politically correct as a therapist. Denying parts of the “self” only leads to an imbalance and the denial of the self becoming whole. There is more yet to learn and to dare in developing a truly holistic analytic process. Jung dared and showed the way. We seem to have taken the safest parts of his daring and crafted a somewhat socially acceptable way of being within a analytic container – but is it “full?”

    Comment by Robert G. Longpré — November 26, 2011 @ 3:47 am

  3. Two questions:

    1. Do you have any sense when this film will be released to the public? I could find mention of it online, but no release date.

    2. Wouldn’t it be true that Eros and the other archetypes are in play in every conversation, even those not involving analyst/patient? Analysts may have an advantage over we laymen in recognizing what is happening, but it seems to me that anytime we converse with someone we set these subconscious forces in motion. If we keep conversing, as analysts do with their patients, uninformed layman without this knowledge have little chance of predicting the outcome.

    Comment by Skip Conover — November 26, 2011 @ 6:55 pm

  4. Regretfully, although online data suggests this film was released on November 23, 2011, I have never been able to find it in theaters in the Washington, DC area. I am hoping it finds its way to pay-per-view soon.

    Comment by Skip Conover — December 30, 2011 @ 4:44 pm

  5. Loved this movie. Watched it three times back to back.

    Comment by Charles Frith — May 23, 2014 @ 9:33 am

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