When the Titans went their separate ways, Jung developed his own theory of how analysis cured. The person had to do more than come to understand himself: he had to discover what he could be . . . he had to create a sense of what he might become. This is what Spielrein explains to Freud in the film when they meet and he rejects it out of hand. But for Hampton, the transformative Jungian cure is the basis of his deeper argument and central to the underlying, more sophisticated narrative. Jung gives Spielrein the sense that she, “an insane patient,” can become a psychoanalyst in her own right. That sense of what she can become is her cure! Jung is very much her patient as well as her doctor, and she shows him what he can become. Their adulterous affair not only was good for her, but also it empowers him, unlocks his genius, and helps him break out of the straightjacket of conventional wisdom. Hampton’s Jung underlines this, telling Spielrein she was the most important love of his life. She gave him a sense of what he could become. They have cured each other and the illicit affair was part of that cure. With Wagner’s Siegfried’s Idyll playing in the background (Siegfried is the heroic offspring of the incestuous affair between Sigmund and Sieglinde in the Ring Cycle), Spielrein assures Jung that good things can come out of bad, that perhaps true creativity requires such boundary violations.
Jung’s therapy of “salvation,” as it is called by Philip Rieff, has captured the imagination of contemporary new wave psychology that embraces Jung’s mysticism. Jungians also claim credit for the spiritual element in all of the 12-step programs that play such an important role in contemporary therapeutic endeavors. But most American psychiatrists know almost nothing about Carl Jung. A Dangerous Method should spark their interest.
There is another mystical Jungian element that general audiences might not fully register. Jung believed that dreams (and particularly his own dreams) could be prophetic. In the last scene of the film, a pregnant Spielrein, now married to a “kind” Jewish doctor, visits Jung. He is troubled, not sleeping at night, and on the verge of his “nervous breakdown.” Spielrein was his guide and mistress on his first empowering journey, and Toni Wolff, another analysand and mistress, would steer him through his impending psychosis and help him record it in The Red Book. Spielrein extracts Jung’s confession about his new mistress whom she emphasizes is like her, an analysand and half Jewish. Neither agreeing nor disagreeing with Spielrein’s observation, he responds, “My wife is the foundation of my house, Toni perfumes the air.” He is no longer a monogamist; in fact, both women, like Spielrein, went on to be Jungian analysts and found a new identity sharing the great man’s life.
Jung tells Spielrein the dream that is waking him at night. A flood is sweeping over Europe and it reaches Switzerland as an avalanche of blood. Spielrein asks him what the dream means; he answers that he doesn’t know unless “It’s about to happen.” It is 1913 and his dream on the eve of the First World War is prophecy. Hampton’s Jung is not just a genius: he is a divine.
I have said nothing about Viggo Mortensen’s Freud. Mortensen is an actor of great talent and charisma, and certainly on screen he is a match for Fassbender and his resemblance to Freud is uncanny. But speaking Hampton’s lines, his Freud is small-minded, reductive, doctrinaire, and manipulative. There is no sign of the mind that gave birth to the Interpretation of Dreams,the book that earned the real Jung’s unqualified admiration. Freud opened a road into the world of the unconscious that Jung traveled for the rest of his life, and where he found his archetypes.
The film does not have a happy ending, but for Sabina Spielrein and the “spirit” of Carl Jung it is a vindication. Other mental health professionals may well interpret this film quite differently, but anyone interested in psychoanalysis or analytical therapy owes it to himself or herself to see and discuss A Dangerous Method with colleagues.