David Cronenberg’s new film A Dangerous Method (which screens tonight at the Bell Lightbox) looks at three real-life people: Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), and Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a patient of Jung’s who was cured of “hysteria” and eventually went on to become a doctor herself. For a historical film, a lot of wild, wacky stuff goes on, and it’s hard to guess what’s fact and what’s fiction. Consequently, we’ve done a quick accuracy check on the film, addressing some of the most pressing questions.
Q: Was Spielrein really as nutty as the film suggests?
A: She was indeed. Though she was supremely well-educated, the condition then known as “hysteria” ran in the family, and by the time she was brought from Russia to Zrich for treatment she couldn’t meet anyone’s gaze directly, couldn’t eat in public due to an irrational fear she’d defecate, had violent outbursts, made faces, and stuck her tongue out at people. However, there’s no evidence she displayed her bridgework as much as Knightley, nor that she annoyed the hell out of everybody with minute-long gaps between syllables.
Q: Did Jung really have an affair with Spielrein?
A: Hard to say. Spielrein was definitely in love with Jung and repeatedly claimed they’d had a relationship, but Jung denied it, and his wife Emma routinely dismissed the allegations. But the evidence would seem to support the theory. Jung continued seeing Spielrein long after she was cured and moved on to med school, explaining in a letter to Freud that he merely wanted to help her avoid a relapse. “I prolonged the relationship over the years,” he wrote, “and in the end found myself morally obliged, as it were, to devote a large measure of friendship to her.” Pffft, whatever ya had to tell people, Jung.
Q: Would Jung really have given Spielrein spankings?
A: Again, hard to say, but spanking was certainly all the rage back then, as attested by the thousands of erotic novels published during the pre- and post-Victorian eras, including The Whippingham Papers, The Birchen Bouquet, and The Exhibition of Female Flagellants. Also, the comic opera Lady Bumtickler’s Revels. So, yes, probably.
Q: Did Jung really violate all scientific protocol by using his wife as a test subject?
A: He totally did, and quite often, too. Not only that, but he let his likely lover, Spielrein, study and analyze his wife’s tests. What a cad. But in his defence, most other early doctors of psychology committed similar ethical lapses, the rules of the road not having been clearly laid out yet.
Q: Were Jung and Freud really such hunks?
A: Jung was a total hunk, so much so that he had his own set of female groupies. Known as the Zrichberg Pelzmntel, these ladies were young, educated women both intrigued by his theories and reduced to giggles by his handsomeness. They would frequently invite Jung to their homes for private luncheons, ostensibly so he could talk about his work, but mostly so they could show him their etchings.
As for Freud, he was surprisingly handsome in his younger years, but by the early 1900s (when the movie takes place) he was white-whiskered and dour-looking. He was also rather cold and remote compared to the charismatic Jung, and thus probably not considered etching-worthy by anybody.
A Dangerous Method screens today at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1, 4:45 pm.
Brought to you by the Alliance Film, Drive, in theatres September 16th.