March 26, 2012 -- This was one of the main films I was looking forward to seeing in the Spring Film Series at the Wyo Theatre in Laramie. It sounded like an interesting premise, two legendary figures in psychoanalysis dueling over a strange mental patient. It turns out to be pretty interesting at that, and it is based on a true story from early in the last century.
The two legendary figures are Carl Gustav Jung (played by Michael Fassbender) and his mentor, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen of “The Road”). Both of these pioneers in the field of psychoanalysis would become interested in one of Jung's early patients, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley of “Atonement”). In an early session, Sabina confesses that when her abusive father first beat her she enjoyed it. Later, she becomes Jung's lover and she still seems to enjoy being tied up, spanked and whipped in some kinky sex scenes.
Jung is a serious, moral man, but can't resist some sexual temptations, especially after encountering another patient, Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel of “Black Swan”) who is also a fellow psychologist. Gross sees no problem in seducing his female patients and persuades Jung to do the same. Jung is torn by his ingrained sense of morality and by the temptation to release his inner restraints on his sexual impulses. This tension between his rational mind and his deeper sexual desires has a lot to do with Jung's theories about the desirablity of integrating these primal mental forces.
Jung's struggle with his sexual desire for Sabina is coupled with his growing dispute with Freud. Jung believes the spiritual aspect of mental health to be very important. This led him into all sorts of tangential pursuits, telepathy, flying saucers, alchemy, and various relgions. Freud was opposed to this, feeling that psychoanalysis should be as strictly scientific as possible. He reasoned that the more scientific its basis is the easier it is to defend it from its detractors. Jung also disputed Freud's contention that nearly every mental problem has a sexual component.
When Sabina finally meets Freud, though, she finds that she agrees with him more than she does with Jung. Freud is impressed with Sabina, who is now considered “cured” of her mental problems and he asks her to take on some of his patients. The split between Freud and Jung is painful for both men, and the breakup between Jung and Sabina is also painful for both, but they all went their separate ways and became very successful. At the end of the film, there are footnotes about what happened to all the main characters. There are some real tragedies later on.
The film is understandably talky, but there was enough passion and drama in it to hold my attention. It is a good primer on psychoanalysis. I am told that the sessions in the film are a bit like modern therapy sessions. The acting is excellent by all the main cast members, especially Knightley and Fassbender (who had the best year of any actor in 2011 with his standout performances in “Shame,” “Jane Eyre” and “X-Men First Class” as well as this film). Mortenson was solid as Freud and was also unrecognizable in the full beard. The film's production values were very solid with beautiful early 20th century sets, costumes and some beautiful period carriages and boats. This film rates a B.
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