Another psychiatrist and I went with our spouses. We all hated it. There were at least three levels on which I considered the film, the first being whether it in fact is a good film, the second relating to what it shows about Freud, Jung, and the birth of psychoanalysis, and the third what it shows about a psychiatrist getting involved with his patient.
A Dangerous Method purports to show Jung, the protagonist, treating a young (and of course beautiful, played by Keira Knightly) Russian Jewish woman named Sabina Spielrein, who was brought to his clinic for treatment of her hysteria. It is quite obvious from the outset that he will fall in love with her, and we are not disappointed, but the predictability and lack of drama in the film are striking. Spielrein gets better and wants to become a physician and analyst herself, which she does (historically, her most famous analysand was Jean Piaget).
We see a little of Freud, stiff and priggish, but quite adamant on maintaining the scientific stature of psychoanalysis and opposed to Jung’s efforts to bring in parapsychology. It is hard to imagine a less sympathetic picture of Jung, and as one who knows relatively little about him I can just say that I hope this film’s portrayal is a strong dramatization: unfeeling, narcissistic, and breaking every rule that has been standard in our field since its inception.
Sabina has been abused by her father by being beaten, which she acknowledges led to sexual arousal. Her symptoms remit as she became able to talk about it. Of course the very worst thing for this woman would be to reproduce that trauma with her psychiatrist, but that is exactly what Jung repeatedly does. The director switches (again quite predictably) between scenes of Sabina being beaten by Jung prior to sex to scenes of Jung’s beautiful and virginally white-clad wife, loyal and forgiving, who tells Jung haltingly that she disappointed him by having given birth to a girl, but will do better next time.
Of course Sabina falls in love with him. You do understand that it is transference. But he soaks it up and wallows in it. For a patient who has been sexually abused and beaten by her father everything Jung does is the worst it could be.
No viewer has any sympathy for him. He is without feeling except for himself. No guilt. No regrets.
Now, if the film really taught us something about psychoanalysis! But it doesn’t. It uses the language but throws off profoundly important concepts with the ease of a ten year old telling you that E = mc2, and with equivalent understanding. Spielrein herself made some important contributions, and Jung was one of the most famous psychologists in the world, but how he got that distinction (rather than ostracism and shame) is anyone’s guess.
So the more you know about psychoanalysis and good drama the more you will hate this film. The more you understand that a patient having a sexual relationship (and even more a perverted one) with a psychiatrist causes profound and lasting damage, the more you will feel that a film that makes the relationship appear harmless is itself causing serious harm.