Directed by David Cronenberg
Written by Christopher Hampton and John Kerr
Starring Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen and Vincent Cassel
Michael Fassbender stars as Carl Jung, who became the prized disciple in psycho-analytic studies under Sigmund Freud. When his new patient, a young Russian Jew named Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), arrives at Burghölzli Mental Hospital, he decides she is the perfect patient to try out Freud’s technique on. As he spends time with the troubled patient, his relationship with his mentor Freud slowly falls apart. After receiving anarchic, sexual liberist Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel) at his hospital, Jung opens his mind to his own primitive desires and embarks on affair with Spielrein. Freud’s professional distance and unwillingness to approve Jung as a successor to his ideas with Jung’s conflicting ideas of introducing mysticism into psychology proves to be the final straw. Out of the destruction of their relationship flourishes another, in the form of Spielrein who’s own studies as a psycho-analyst are born between serving as a pupil under both Jung and Freud.
I cannot express how stunning this movie looks. It has a modern minimalistic feel with it’s use of white in many of the scenes. Beneath it’s clinical exterior lies complicated, dark and primitive ideas of sexuality amongst the breakdown of psycho-analysis as envisioned by Freud. Using Freud’s ‘talking cure’, Jung is able to extract repressed memories from Spielrein in which her anxieties stem from the sexual arousal of being punished or embarassed. Jung himself is unconvinced that all neurosis originates from sexual issues, and believes in other mystic ideas that conflict with those of Freud’s. Whilst married and content financially to a loving wife, Jung engages in extra-marital activities with Spielrein which aids to free her from her own anxieties as well as satisfying his own desires.
Whilst some of the movie going public will be visiting the cinemas just to see Keira Knightley getting spanked by Michael Fassbender on the big screen, this film provides an intellectual insight to two of the greatest minds that ever lived. The film plays out in a triangle between Jung, Freud and Spielrein, who each have their own ideas on neurosis and the cures. Knightley, Fassbender and Mortensen shine through perfectly in this film, each giving depth to their respective character. Keira Knightley, who starts off a bit quirky with her interpretation of anxiety attacks, soon settles into her Russian accented role and flourishes under the academic guidance and sexual engagements with Fassbender’s Carl Gustov Jung. Jung is a caring gentleman, who needn’t worry about finance due to his marriage to a wealthy woman, but he seems to be constantly on the search for something more. Vincent Cassel delightfully roars through his scenes as anarchic Otto Gross, who’s sexual appetite with his own patients and just about anyone who’s up for it, inspires Jung who’s repressed his sexual urges in an attempt to be ‘normal’. Freud, living in Vienna, is happily plodding along with his techniques and views which he imparts onto others but daren’t publicly display them in fear of reprisals from his critics. His self importance as the authority figure in his work ruins his relationships on a social level. He even treats Jung like a patient instead of a friend when refusing to discuss his dreams and the meaning of them. This, along with Jung’s spiritual ideas, ruins the relationship with the man who he initially hoped to be his successor.
This interesting, thought provoking period drama gives the viewer an insight into the birth of psycho-analysis with outstanding performances by all.