It’s not every day that you watch a movie where the hero is Carl Jung and his biggest obstacle character is Sigmund Freud, so this film deserves a lot of praise for just getting made. Freud towers over the history of psychoanalysis like a bad father, so it is indeed very interesting to watch a film where Carl Jung might have been the first person to feel this oppressive patriarchal pressure with full knowledge of what was coming down the pike.
So much has been written about both these men it would have been difficult to come up with something revelatory except, when you see some of the action taking place, you’re finally struck with how human and frail these people were. It’s hard to say whether it is an accurate account, but it’s certainly a fascinating, entertaining account – the best kind of historical fiction, even.
What’s Good About It
The historic figures played by these actors almost come to life and you almost forget you’re watching these actors with so much star baggage. It plays smoothly and Cronenberg shows his eye for the bizarre is alive and well.
It’s also a film without guns, where the threat of violence is sexually charged, but explicitly stated to be so, and is an intrinsic part of he story. In that sense it is the dead opposite of a typical Hollywood action film where there are guns blazing a plenty and it is in fundamental denial that it finds violence as a kind of sexual pleasure.
What’s Bad About It
I don’t really know of any clinical hysterics, so I don’t know what to make of Keira Knightly’s performance as Sabina when she was still crazy. Still, her performance had me laughing so much I missed a few important bits of character information.
The lighting is also very flat and the interiors look way to studio-like as a result. It’s a taste thing, but it added to the hokey-ness of the portrayal of Jung.
What’s Interesting About It
Now that a century has passed, we accept the place of psychoanalysis in the world of science with great ease, but the film goes to great pains to show that the origins of psychoanalysis were so fragile and difficult. Psychologists today are at great pains to explain that Freud is obsolete and has been discredited while literary critics still hold to Freudian analysis with gusto. The film exists as an extension of the debt that modernist thinking owes to both Freud and Jung, but at the same time it is an attempt to swim up river to have a look at the source of the metaphorical river.
It’s also a film without guns with minimal ‘action’. The talking is drawn out and loaded with meaning and subtext. If you want to reflect on the meaning of every word uttered, the film moves with a languid pace where you can mull over the meaning of the scenes.
The Freud And Jung Split
Behaviourists have a preoccupation with trying to understand the mind in terms of a mechanical throughput. The reductionist arguments mounted by behaviourists and Behaviourism often come down to rats in a maze. The great elaboration that psychoanalysis provided was to attempt engage with the dynamic psyche as a whole.
The talking cure was an attempt to grapple with the persona of people, and understand its underpinnings. Freud’s insight about human sexuality blew down taboos that had stood for a good several millennia of human existence.
In turn, Jung’s splitting with Freud probably drew its cause from the notion that humanity had to be bigger and better than the reduction that Freud was undertaking to drive home the point.
All of this stuff is in the film, and it made me think of my time at university where Behaviourist lecturers would come into the lecture theatre and try and reduce this very dramatic split into a multiple choice question in an exam (I had terrible lecturers in a terrible faculty in a terrible university, I might add)
I guess I wasn’t long for my faculty way back when because I was reading a good deal of Jung across his oeuvre covering telepathy, archetypes, anthropological considerations, all refracted through various authors I was reading at the time (Philip K. Dick, Yasutaka Tsutsui et al.). To this day it seems to me that Jung offers the most possibilities for understanding the entirety of man’s spirit, getting a grasp of the human mind. That Jung was in some kind of sado-masochistic relationship with one of his analysands merely adds a tiny wrinkle of interest to the complexity of his picture of man.
Sigmund Freud, My Hero
The impact of Freud’s writing must have been devastating. If there ever was an epoch in human history where hypocrisy about human sexuality was the accepted norm, then 19th century Europe was that epoch. For a man to lob the intellectual grenade into this cloistered part of history deserves great applause. I’ve come a cross a lot of people who have it on their intellectual program to somehow wind back the ramification of Freud. It’s an amazingly diverse bunch of people who want to shove the genie back into the bottle. Christians to feminist psychologists to lawyers to doctors to teachers have all come out swinging hard against Freud’s theories in my experience and I always turn it back on them and ask, “so how repressed do you feel you are about sexuality?”
Freud had devised the intellectual equivalent of “have you stopped beating your wife yet?” Of course, if this movie is anything to go by, it’s not the wife Jung is beating, it’s his masochist mistress.
Nonetheless, without Freud you don’t have Alfred Kinsey and without Kinsey you don’t have the 1960s. Without the 1960s, I don’t think you have Rock or in particular, Frank Zappa. Think about that for a moment. Freud’s got to be everybody’s hero.
Fear Of The Future
In this film, both Freud and Jung have intimations of the violence to come. Freud is extremely guarded about the fact that he is Jewish, in Vienna, and most of his psychoanalysis colleagues are Jewish. He wants Jung on his side to make the theory reach a wider public outside of his little Jewish clique. He even offers the most reductionist appraisal of why Sabina’s relationship with Jung fails – it is because she is a Jewess and Jung is a gentile.
In this film, both Jung and Freud skirt around the issue of what it actually means to be Jew or gentile in the presence of the other man. It might be a deliberate misunderstanding on the part of both men even, but they never engage with it. All the same Freud is acutely aware of it, so it would seem, so was Jung.
Jung in turn has premonitions. In the final scene where he discusses his apocalyptic dreams with Sabina, it is clear he is talking about World War I to come. in his wildest, intuitive sensibility, Jung is sensing the vast human carnage to come in the Twentieth Century. We can dismiss all this as mere movie revisionism except Jung did write down his dreams, and here is an entry you can find on the net.
If I had to reappraise what I thought of both Freud and Jung based on this film, it is that I think Freud was a lot more grounded in reality than I had previously thought, and that Jung was probably even weirder than I had imagined.