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The Dangers of A Dangerous Method

January 22, 2012

I saw the movie, A Dangerous Method, a few weeks ago and was annoyed at the depiction of Sabina Speilrein, a notable psychoanalyst. In the movie, we first meet Speilrein as a crazy inmate of the asylum where Jung is a doctor; she becomes Jung’s lover and disrupts his collegial relationship with Freud. She seems passionate, “disturbed” — as the movie description says — the embodiment of all unpleasant “feminine” stereotypes.

To begin with, to single Speilrein out as the only “disturbed” one in this triangle is as absurd as it is unfair. Whatever else one might say about Freud and Jung, they were far from being entirely “rational” beings. And, far from being an emblem of passionate and irrational femininity, in fact, Speilrein was a highly trained medical doctor and analyst. She published important analytical papers and influenced many of the important analysts of the next generation. It is true that she began her career as a patient in the asylum where Jung worked, but she was far from being “crazy” in the sense the movie suggests. She was a “hysteric,” and as John Kerr points out in the book upon which the movie is ostensibly based, Speilrein’s “hysteria” was actually a run of the mill ailment of the period. No one thought of her as “crazy.” It is true that she and Jung became lovers (of a sort). But this is not all they were to each other. They were passionately entwined as thinkers and analytic colleagues; he was the lover/teacher that betrayed her. In addition, she was not simply the woman who came between the great analysts, she was an intellectual force in her own right and is actually yet another example of a woman whose ideas were ignored and overlooked simply because she was a woman. Both Freud and Jung are to blame for this.

The real danger of this movie is the danger of the cliches it reinforces, a danger that was brought home to me when a friend of mine told me he liked the movie because of how it depicts the complicated relationship between Freud and Jung. Oh, and that woman. “The woman?” I asked. “Yeah,” he said, “I can’t remember her name.”

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