A Most Dangerous Method: A Book and Movie Review

It seems like most movies I see are inspired by books.

I recently watched  A Dangerous Method, (confession: I have a movie star crush on Keira Knightley), and also read the nonfiction book that inspired it, A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr. Both tell the story of Carl Jung’s relationship with Sigmund Freud, which you can only really understand if you know who Sabina Spielrein is. When a box of her correspondence was found in the 1970s, it shed light on the complicated relationship between two of the  most influential thinkers of the century.

Sabina Spielrein was a patient of Jung’s and the first he used “the talking cure” on, which led to his professional relationship with Freud. Spielrein’s therapy reveals she was abused by her father and possessed a taste for masochism, taking extreme sexual satisfaction from humiliation. She was also extremely bright, showing a talent for medicine and psychiatry herself. Spielrein became more than a patient after Jung began treating another psychologist referred to him by Freud—Otto Gross, who doesn’t believe anything should be repressed. Jung and Spielrein begin an affair founded on love and lust. When Jung ends the affair, Spielrein seeks out Freud. Though Freud had seen Jung as his natural heir, the two break over personal issues relating to Sabina as much as disagreements over the role of religion in psychology and other theoretical issues.

The book was written in an academic yet approachable style and was deeply engrossing. The movie adaptation managed to dramatize the material and forge a cohesive narrative though the story spans decades and has a complicated cast of characters based on real persons. Keira Knightley is amazing as Sabina Spielrein. The opening scenes where we see her suffering from hysteria are truly horrific.

I am not well-schooled in the history of psychology. I took an intro level class in college where we only studied the “fun” stuff—personality. By reading this, not only did I learn about psychoanalysis, but was reminded that history, and even relatively recent history, is only ever partial truth. As a librarian, I’m reminded of the importance of archival materials that may seem obscure or irrelevant at the time, could in fact shed light on complicated issues in the future. Jung and Freud have shaped how we see ourselves as humans, the very way we think about what it means to think. It’s important to remember that these theories are just that, and that the men who developed them had their own motivations.

I am a fan of irreverence. When I hear Freud’s quote, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” I am inclined to think of his statement: “Oh,  don’t take that too seriously. That’s something I dreamed up on a rainy Sunday afternoon.”As a disciple of irony, I can appreciate the fact that Jung once said, “Thank God I’m not a Jungian.”

I highly recommend that you check out the movie, and if you’re interested in reading nonfiction that is educational without being incredibly dense, check out the book, too.


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