Thursday, February 16, 2017

Spank me, doctor?

Good post title for a review of A Dangerous Method, no?

I had intended seeing it at the cinema, but never got around to it.  But it is currently on SBS on Demand, for those in Australia, at least.

For those who don't know - the movie is about the early career of Carl Jung and his interaction with Freud and a patient/lover Sabina Spielrein.  Yes, it is basically a true life story, and having read a bit of Jung in my time, there were key scenes that were recognizably drawn from Jung's memoirs.  

How did it work as a film?    I would say it's good without being great.   Its best feature was the terrific acting of Keira Knightley, yet I see she received no nominations for any award.  Michael Fassbender was OK as Jung, but I thought Viggo Mortensen was pretty forgettable as Freud, yet they got all the award nominations.  Odd.  

The movie looks good and the subject matter was always interesting, but being (largely - see below) based on real life that wasn't bent too far out of shape, the story doesn't really have a dramatic structure that's very satisfying.   I felt the movie particularly failed to explain the origin of Jung's interest in the occult and paranormal.  The famous scene (if you know anything about them) in which Jung argues with Freud that there should be more to psychoanalysis than sex, and feels vindicated by sudden bangs coming from the bookcase, seems to come out of nowhere.   But anyone who had read much about him knows better:   I think I have on the bookshelf a (largely unread) copy  of Jung's 1903 doctoral dissertation "On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena":  he had been interested in the subject for a long time, and it seems to me the movie might somehow have shown evidence of that before he started to complain to Freud.

Apart from that complaint, here's where I get to mull over the matter of where lines should be drawn in purportedly historical movies that invent key scenes for dramatic purposes.  I am surprised to read that there is considerable dispute over whether Jung and Sabina ever actually became physical lovers - let alone the kinky, spanky kind of lovers featured as the most memorably odd thing about their relationship in the film.

Sure, they had a romantic relationship of some kind (well known from their letters and diaries) but their exchanges never amount to a 100% clear evidence of sex.  Here's an article in Psychology Today discussing this:
However, much of the film turns around the dramatic invention that Jung and Sabina had a sexual affair, characterized by bondage and sadomasochistic practices. These lurid scenes are likely to be the ones that most people who see the film will take away with them. There is no concrete evidence of their having had an affair, let alone the sadomasochistic elements so vividly portrayed in the movie.

A Huffington Post interviewer confronts Cronenberg directly on this point, to which he replies: "An invention with justification. I was taken to task by a young woman who had seen the trailer. She was trying to convince me that Sabina and Jung never had sex. In her letters Sabina wrote about Jung in poetic terms, this woman claimed. You could have sexual poetry, I wanted to point out to her. But in her diary and letters to Freud, Sabina wrote, ‘I gave Jung my maidenhood, my innocence.' In the Victorian era that could only mean one thing. They had a sexual affair. We coupled that with how she talked about her father and being beaten, how that turned her on sexually..."

I think it may be a stretch when he says, Sabina's written statement that she gave Jung her "maidenhood," her "innocence," could only mean one thing. After all, so much of their discourse had to do with symbols and it's possible that she was speaking metaphorically. At the same time, I think it's quite well-established that Jung later had a long-term mistress, Toni Wolff. So, I'm not trying to whitewash his character. In fact, the Wikipedia entry on Sabina Spielrein reports, "The historian and psychoanalyst Peter Loewenberg argues that this was a sexual relationship, in breach of professional ethics, and that it ‘jeopardized his [Jung's] position at the Burgh√∂lzli and led to his rupture with Bleuler and his departure from the University of Zurich.'" In an interview about the film, Jungian analyst, Dr. Thomas Kirsch says, "I have no idea whether Jung had a sexual affair with Sabina Spielrein. This is a subject which has been written about extensively. Zvi Lothane, a psychoanalyst and historian, wrote of his conviction that they had a sexual affair in his earlier papers. In a later paper he reversed his opinion..."
 I think it fair to say from this that the movie could entirely justify portraying them as lovers.  What's far less justifiable is the sadomasochism as a key element in their sexual relationship.

As the writer of the Psychology Article says, Jungian professionals tended to like the film, but at the same recognised that it could harm the public's regard for Jungian analysis.  Oh well.

So, my feeling on whether this breached the line of acceptable invention:  yes, but I guess I don't feel too worked up about it.  It was only an incrementally crossed line - and it was not really dramatically unforgiveable.   (Unlike, say, the ridiculous inventions in Elizabeth that I complained about last year.) 

One final bit of trivia:  I was interested in this comment by the director in the Psychology Today article (my bold):
In an interview, Cronenberg says: "What's in the movie is perfectly accurate because it was from a letter-writing period. At that time in Vienna, there were between five and eight mail deliveries per day. If you wrote a letter in the morning, you expected to get an answer by the afternoon. It was their internet. So there were many, many letters. These people were very obsessive about detail and the minutiae of their lives (what their dreams were and what they ate) and what that signifies. We had lots of info. I can back up almost every line of dialogue with quotes from letters."
 Huh.   Five to eight deliveries a day?   Postmen must have been busy...


not trampis said...

I recently saw Lion. It was dreadful. Kidman was woeful.

Steve said...

Oh, I'm surprised. Most people seem to say it's very moving.

not trampis said...

over-rated just like Kightley although she was good in Bend it like Beckham

Anonymous said...

Kira has a huge overbite. Paxton, like a broken clock, is right this once.

I saw the movie. It wasn't dreadful as Paxton says, but it also wasn't the best movie I've seen either.

Anonymous said...

Paxton, if we're talking about lion and kidmas's performance, why are you bringing up Kira K, you obtuse meandering humbskull? You're so annoying.

not trampis said...

you do read what Steve wrote?