A Dangerous Method

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A Dangerous Method is a 2011 period drama directed by David Cronenberg. It concerns the beginning of Carl Jung's (Michael Fassbender) career in psychoanalysis, told through his relationships with a patient, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), and his mentor, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen).

Jung, an up-and-coming Swiss doctor, is working at a sanatorium when he begins to treat a Ms. Sabina Spielrein. Sabina, a Russian Jew, is hysterical, and Jung decides to try the "talking cure" being popularized by Freud in Vienna. The treatment proves successful, and Sabina returns to medical school, staying in contact with Jung. The two develop a romantic relationship, with Jung dissatisfied with his marriage to a young Swiss heiress. Their affair is intellectual (exploring Jung's fascination with memes and classic archetypes) and sexual (exploring Sabina's masochism in a consensual environment). Eventually, the guilt of his infidelity overwhelms Jung (as well as rumors revealing its existence to the public), and he ends the affair despite Sabina's vehement opposition. Eventually, the two reconcile and re-initiate their affair, but this time, Sabina breaks it off to go work in Vienna with Freud.

Meanwhile, Jung and Freud begin a correspondence. While impressed with Freud, Jung has reservations about his rigidly sexual approach to the human psyche. Freud brands Jung his successor and heir, reinforcing the paternalistic relationship. The two collaborate but continue to grow apart for a variety of reasons: Jung denies that all psychology is sexual and final, while Freud denounces Jung's interest in non-traditional venues of psychological study, which he calls "mystical nonsense." The two also chafe at their sociopolitical differences; Freud a Austrian Jew with little expendable income, and Jung a wealthy Swiss Protestant. This is all complicated by Jung's affair with Sabina; the young woman turns to Freud after their affair ends, and Jung feels betrayed, convinced she has chosen Freud's interpretation of psychoanalysis over his.

The film ends with Jung approaching a nervous breakdown, cut off by Freud and Sabina.

Tropes used in A Dangerous Method include:
  • All Psychology Is Freudian: Played straight; even as Jung splits from Freud, his methodology is based in Freud's work.
  • Big Applesauce: Jung and Freud visit America for a psychological conference, and the only shot is of their boat approaching Manhattan.
  • Biopic: The film only covers 12 years of Jung's life but touches on most of the arcs of his biography.
  • Bunny Ears Lawyer: Dr. Otto Gross - a neurotic kleptomaniac who is considered to be one of the best in his field by Freud himself.
  • Carl Jung: The film portrays him as a conflicted figure, if ultimately correct.
  • Character Development: Jung and Sabina, in particular, grow to be very complex characters.
  • Cute and Psycho: Averted. While Sabina's reaction to the end of the affair is emotional, she refuses to explicitly blackmail Jung, mostly emotionally wounding him by demanding a referral to Freud.
  • David Cronenberg: One of his most mainstream films, notably lacking the Body Horror and extreme violence of his other movies.
  • Downer Ending: The ending explains how each of the protagonists died. Otto by starvation in Berlin in 1919, Freud being driven out of Austra by the Nazi's and dying of cancer, Sabina dying by excution by Nazi occupiers in World War II and Jung overcoming his nervous breakdown at World War I and dying peacefully in 1961, after becoming the "world's leading psychologist".
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Jung claims to have been experiencing bouts of ESP his entire life, and in one scene (set in 1914), describes a dream where Northern Europe is drowned in a tidal wave of blood.
  • The Edwardian Era
  • Eternal Sexual Freedom: Subverted. While Jung's conversations with Otto Gross about monogamy are radical, they are treated as such.
  • Europeans Are Kinky: Played straight.
  • Freudian Couch: Averted. Strangely, never makes an appearance. Everyone conducts their therapy while seated upright.
  • Freudian Excuse: Played straight. Sabina reveals, during therapy, that her masochism stems from the violent punishments she received as a child from her father.
  • Freud Was Right: Part of the crux is the in-universe dispute whether he is or not. At least he was right in Sabina's case, concerning the sexual roots of her hysteria.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Gross to Jung.
  • Heroic BSOD.
  • Id, Superego and Ego: an interesting case - the simplest interpretation is to identify Jung with Ego, Emma with Superego and Sabina with Id, but Freud also has a traces of Superego (in reference to Jung's Ego) in him.
  • The Last Temptation: Subverted, in that Jung makes the plunge.
  • Laughing Mad: Sabina, during the onset of hysteria.
  • Mad Love: Played with. Arguably, Sabina goes from hysterical to reasonably sane, while Jung feels his mind coming apart over the course of the film. Their affairs falls at a point where the two are equally "crazy."
  • Nipple-and-Dimed
  • Oedipus Rex
  • Pervert Dad: Sabina's father had her strip naked for her spankings.
  • Psycho Ex-Girlfriend: Sabina towards Jung, for some time.
  • Psycho Psychologist: Subverted with Sabina, played straight with Otto. When Sabina mentions her ambition to be a therapist, Jung approves, saying "We need insane doctors. Sane ones are so limited." Otto, on the other hand, sleeps with all of his patients and encourages suicide if he deems it an appropriate solution.
  • Rule of Symbolism: take a look at Freud when he asks Jung about Sabina's virginity.
  • Sex as Rite-of-Passage: Sabina.
  • Sigmund Freud: The film plays up Freud's paternalistic and paranoid tendencies, portraying him as a sort of passive-aggressive antagonist.
  • Single-Issue Psychology: Lampshaded. While Sabina's therapy reveals a sexual trauma is the root of her masochism, Jung criticizes Freud for being so obsessed with sex as the root of all human psychology.
  • Spank the Cutie
  • Stepford Smiler: Emma Jung.
  • Talkative Loon: Sabina, at the beginning of the film.
  • Trickster Mentor: Otto Gross. While nominally, he is Jung's patient, Otto's conversations with the doctor help shape Jung's attitude and philosophy.
  • The Unfettered: Otto Gross. A classic case, as he ignores social mores as he pursues a singular goal of pleasure before death. It also helps that he runs in affluent circles, so he doesn't have to pay for much.
  • Virgin Tension: with Sabina.
  • Woman in White: Sabina, Emma, and most other women in the film.
  • Word Association Test: performed by Jung with Emma as a subject and Sabina as an assistant and an interpreter.