British Universities Film & Video Council

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A Dangerous Method

2012. GB. DVD / Blu-ray. Lions Gate Home Entertainment. 99 minutes (+ extras). Certificate 15. Price: £10.00 (DVD), £13.00 (Blu-ray). Official website:

About the author: Doctor Andrew Macaulay has been a Psychiatrist for over thirty years and also set up Mental Health TV (, a resource producing educational programmes for students, junior doctors, health workers and the general public.

This has lavish production values and somehow the word ‘sumptuous’ seems very appropriate. The technical aspects of the film are not intrusive and the camera work conventional. It is the opposite of a moody art house production. It is quite well paced, although given the nature of the material of course, might seem a bit leisurely.

The title of the film could refer to the doctor/patient relationship and is about the beginnings of psychotherapy, in particular the relationship between Freud and Jung. Sabrina Spielrein is portrayed as a young Russian neurotic and during the course of the film we see Jung’s early attempts to treat her and the grief that comes about as the powerful transference feelings between the three of them come into play in a dysfunctional fashion.

Towards the end of the 19th century, changes began to occur, in some academic circles at least, about the causes, nature and treatment of mental health problems. There began to be an understanding that unconscious conflicts might well have a part to play, and a better understanding of such lead to resolution. Hence the excitement about the interpretation of dreams and symbolism of sexuality, which, even a century or more later can drive the dramatic narrative of many a good film and story in a way that a true understanding of schizophrenia or dementia is less amenable to.

Here then is a film that explores in a series of set pieces many of the issues and conflicts

Sabrina Spielrein (played by Keira Knightley) arrives in an hysterical state to be under the care of C G Jung (played by Michael Fassbender) and he explains the benefits of talking treatment to her. In an attractively filmed sequence we are given a better understanding of the beginnings of psychotherapy and the nature of Sabrina’s underlying problems. At this early stage Jung appears quite deferential towards the views of his master. However when he meets Freud (played by Viggo Mortensen) there is a significant change in mood and the tensions between them become clear. Freud refers a patient, Otto Goss (played by Vincent Cassel) to Jung and in a pivotal scene, Goss confronts Jung with his hedonistic view of the world and challenges his therapist to seduce Sabrina if that is his urge. In fact, we see Sabrina making her own urges and longings very clear.

During the film we are given no understanding of the relationship between Jung and his family. Although his wife is portrayed as loving and caring, there is an opaqueness about her and the quality of their relationship never really explored. How did he feel about her having all the money? How did she feel about him abusing her? Unanswered questions.

We see a little of the trip Jung and Freud made to America but not much about the impact it had on their thinking. Some of the conflicts are well presented, such as the interest that Jung develops in other psychic phenomena and telepathy. Freud is very critical and dismissive.

It presents an important snapshot of their lives, each … at a different stage

The film presents an important snapshot of the men’s lives, each of them at a different stage. The film stops rather than concludes. The ‘what happened next’ element of the story is presented as written text, a style that sat frustratingly uneasily with the rest of the film. Still I guess it’s got to stop somewhere, somehow.

Nevertheless, even if you don’t have much interest in psychiatry or psychology, it is an attractive, informative and relatively undemanding film that I think you will enjoy.


Dr A J Macaulay MD MSc MRCPsych


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