A Dangerous Method Ending Explained & Plot Analysis

Freud vs. Jung in A Dangerous Method (2011): description, plot summary, what real events is it based on, drama meaning, similar movies.

Country: UK, Germany, Canada, USA

Genre: thriller, drama, melodrama, biography

Year of production: 2011

Director: David Cronenberg

Actors: Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, Vincent Cassel.

Tagline: Freud vs. Jung

Awards and nominations: In 2011 the film was nominated for the “Golden Lion” award at the Venice Film Festival.

The description of the movie A Dangerous Method on different movie websites can easily mislead the viewer. In fact, it is not so much about a peculiar “love triangle” as about the ideological confrontation between the founders of classical psychoanalysis and analytical psychology – Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung.

Nevertheless, David Cronenberg’s picture is able to interest not only narrow specialists, but also everyone who likes atmospheric, “intelligent” movies.

What the movie’s about?

Brief description of the content of the picture. A young woman named Sabine Spielrein suffers from hysteria. Tired of her fits, the girl’s relatives eventually send her to the famous psychiatric clinic “Burgholzli” in Zurich.

Dr. Carl Gustav Jung undertakes to treat the young woman. He soon realizes that he got an unusual patient – Sabina, who grew up in the  Empire, is well educated and very intelligent. In addition, she is interested in medicine. After spending some more time with her, he offers her to become a participant in his experiments. Sabina agrees – it is a great honor for her to work with such a scientist as Dr. Jung.

Keira Knightley of A Dangerous Method
Keira Knightley as Sabina Spielrein. A still from the movie A Dangerous Method

In the process of work, the doctor reveals the root cause of his patient’s hysteria: according to his interpretation, the “root of evil” is in her relationship with her father – in the past he has repeatedly humiliated her. This strangely led the girl into a state of arousal and since then she began to seek any form of humiliation …

Jung seeks advice from his former mentor, Dr. Sigmund Freud. The meeting turns into a long discussion, during which it becomes clear that the scientists are at completely different poles: Freud tries to prove that psychoanalysis is a new word in science, but Jung does not agree.

One day Freud has to leave on a business trip, and he asks Jung to look after his patient named Otto Gross – a psychoanalyst, intellectual and a terrible libertine. Jung agrees and, upon meeting Gross, utilizes his method of therapeutic conversation. Otto easily takes over the initiative of the conversation: in his opinion, all they both need is a rich sex life. Without any hesitation, he suggests that Jung follow his example and have a few extramarital affairs.

Meanwhile, Sabine’s mental state is slowly improving. The doctor, still impressed by Otto’s words, suddenly sees in her not only a patient but also a pretty girl. After a while, he meets Gross again and the latter wonders whether the young man has ever had intimate relations with his patients. According to Young, such an idea had never occurred to him. To this Gross says that he himself easily manipulates his patients into thinking that their refusal to have sex with him is a symptom of a mental disorder. It works almost always…

Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender of A Dangerous Method
Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud, Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung. A still from the movie A Dangerous Method

At Jung’s next meeting with Sabina, the conversation smoothly turns to the topic of intimacy. The girl admits that she has no experience and assumes that the reason for her creepy breakdowns lies in her lack of a sexual life. She wants that experience right now and takes the initiative.

The doctor is confused: he likes Sabine, but he doesn’t want to betray his wife and, besides, he considers intimacy with patients wrong and immoral. However, Otto continues to play the role of tempter and eventually Jung gives in. He comes home to Sabine and spends the night with her. Thus begins their strange romance.

Soon Freud returns. The scientists continue their discussion, during which the older comrade directly accuses Jung of sleeping with his patient. The latter defends himself: there is nothing wrong, and the point of their meetings is that he slightly indulges Sabina in her desires and thus helps her to relax. But Jung hears the alarm bell: soon he meets Sabine and tells her that they should break up. Infuriated Sabine accuses him of telling her mother about their affair. However, the doctor replies that this is not true: Mrs. Spielrein learned about everything from an anonymous letter.

In any case, their relationship is over: now he will treat her as a patient and in no other way. This infuriates the girl. She sees a hidden meaning in this and in principle is not wrong: Jung does not want to betray his wife and further. Sabina writes to Freud and in the letter frankly talks about her affair with her doctor. Freud asks Jung about it, but he stands his ground: he never cheated on his wife, and Sabine spreads false rumors about him. Freud believes his comrade and washes his hands: they must solve their problems without his interference.

Vincent Cassel of A Dangerous Method
The role of Otto played by Vincent Cassel. A still from the movie A Dangerous Method

The girl meets Jung again and learns that he is going to travel to the United States to participate in a conference. Angry, she accuses her lover of lying to Freud and demands that he tell his comrade the truth about their relationship. She says she could publicly accuse him of harassment, but yet she does not do so. Jung finally agrees and tells everything to his colleague.

Several years pass. Sabine, already fully recovered, comes to Switzerland to see Jung – she needs his help in writing her dissertation. She invites him to reminisce about their affair, and he agrees. A pleasant conversation ends in bed, after which Sabine says that she is going to leave for Vienna. Jung asks her to stay, but she does not change her decision.

Two more years pass and Sabine, having become a qualified psychiatrist, meets Freud in Vienna. The conversation turns to psychoanalysis and the young woman tells the scientist that fully shares his views. However, in her opinion, Jung’s method also has the right to exist. The scientist does not agree – moreover, he does not want to talk at all about a former friend, with whom they have not seen each other for a long time.

A year later, Sabine, already a married woman, visits Jung’s wife Emma. She tells her that she is worried about her husband’s mental state – it worsened after the breakup of relations with Freud. Emma feels that Sabine can help and asks her to talk to Carl….

A Dangerous Method Explanation of the ending

Explanation of the ending of the movie. Toward the end, Sabina tries to talk to Jung. He is depressed and tells her that he is tormented by apocalyptic dreams. Sabine doesn’t really like the topic of conversation, and she informs him that she is leaving for Russia soon with her husband. She also finds out that her former doctor has a new mistress, who looks a lot like her….

The meaning of the ending of A Dangerous Method should be sought in Jung’s last words. He speaks of the apocalyptic visions that haunt him. Indeed – a little more time will pass and Europe will be overwhelmed by a sea of blood. A mini-apocalypse in the form of two world wars will affect each of them – this, in particular, is reported in the credits.

The heroes are eventually reconciled by death, but their fundamental dispute is transferred to our time. Will it ever be resolved? Who knows?

What real events is the movie based on

The plot of the movie A Dangerous Method is based on real facts from the biography of Sigmund Freud, Carl Gustav Jung and Sabina Nikolayevna Shpilrein.

Sabina Nikolayevna (Sheiva Naftulievna) Shpilrein received a good education in her youth. She graduated from Rostov Gymnasium with a gold medal. In 1904, the girl experienced severe stress associated with a serious illness and death of her younger sister. Having diagnosed her with psychotic hysteria, Russian doctors sent her for treatment to the Burghölzli psychiatric clinic in Zurich.

Sarah Gadon of A Dangerous Method
Sarah Gadon as Emma Young. A still from the movie A Dangerous Method

The patient was treated by Carl Jung. For seven years Sabina Nikolayevna was the scientist’s analyst and mistress. After an adultery scandal, they parted, and Jung left the department and the clinic.

After being discharged from the clinic, Spielrein defended her dissertation on schizophrenia. She later returned to Russia, where she continued her scientific work until she was shot by the SS in 1942. In total, Sabina Nikolayevna published 30 scientific papers. It is believed that Freud developed his theory of the death instinct based on her work “Destruction as a cause of rebirth”.

Sabina Spielrein was not just one of the first female psychoanalysts – she was a pioneer in child psychology. She influenced both Freud and Jung. In one of his books Freud recognized Spielrein’s contribution to science, but Jung never spoke of her. Apparently, due to the specifics of their relationship, he didn’t see the point of it….

The script of this movie is based on the play A Dangerous Method by playwright Christopher Hampton. Having become interested in psychoanalysis, he thoroughly studied the history of relationships between Jung, Freud and Sabina Spielrein. However, he was more interested in revealing the theme of the limitations of the civilized world.

In turn, the play of a talented playwright was interested in David Cronenberg. In particular, his attention was attracted by the striking figure of Sabine Spielrein, whose fate is emphasized in his film.

The meaning of the movie A Dangerous Method

Psychoanalytic theory, which had once fallen on bad times, is now experiencing a kind of Renaissance. Interest in it is partly due to the popularization of the stamp about the connection between psychoanalysis and sexuality.

David Cronenberg, known for his love of non-trivial depiction of bodily metamorphosis, has taken on the unusual theme. This time, the original director changed the method of presenting the “intuitive inner horror”, which in his earlier films was a lot and began to apply it portionwise, point by point.

Keira Knightley of A Dangerous Method (2011)
A still from the movie A Dangerous Method (2011)

A Dangerous Method is a very academic movie, but nevertheless, there are a number of mise-en-scene filled with strong “mental tension”. It’s not just about Sabine’s seizures. Catharsis is evident in the moments imbued with silence that always accompany Jung’s moments of intimacy with his patient, as well as in the confrontation between the two scientists, in their gazes directed at each other, behind which the fears and anxieties of each of them are hidden.

David Cronenberg translates the loving intimacy of a doctor and an unusual patient into a purely creative plane. In this way he demonstrates that the relationship between Jung and Sabina Spielrein is only of a transference nature. Given the fact that in his reports Jung gave Sabina, to put it mildly, strange characteristics and even tried to explain her behavior by “specificity of origin” (even the greats sometimes thought in stamps), one can easily suspect him of hypocrisy. This is exactly what Freud, who notices and understands everything, hints at very gently.

And yet, what is the essence of the movie and why does it have such a title? The point is that the psychoanalytic method is also called “the talking cure” (in their analysis of the movie, some viewers notice that this is the name of the play: “The Talking Cure”). However, it is not at all as simple as it may seem.

Its essence lies in the fact that the specialist first takes the place of the object to which the client’s speech is addressed, and then “returns” (mirrors) to him everything he has said. And he does it in such a form that the patient can finally hear himself. This is why psychoanalysis does not presuppose personal communication.

The danger of this method is more to the doctor himself – there is always the risk of getting carried away and doing something wrong. Freud saw perfectly well all the pitfalls of this approach, but Jung refused to understand it. Overwhelmed by the desire to create something of his own, he saw his older friend not as a colleague and mentor, but more as an obstacle or even a threat.

bickering between two scientists of A Dangerous Method
A still from the movie A Dangerous Method

Jung’s professional mistakes affect his relationship with Sabine and his wife. He and his patient are convinced that they love each other, although in fact they do not. Their “love” is only a form of transference. The point is that Jung, combining psychoanalysis with personal communication, created a situation of mutual transference: the girl liked to be humiliated, and in him, probably, there were strongly repressed sadistic tendencies. The transfer of personal “cockroaches” on each other for some time suited both of them. However, they could not cope with their feelings and eventually became entangled in them, forgetting about morality and ethics.

Jung was not ready to leave his wife, to give up the usual way of life and go after Sabina. It is possible to assume that he simply came to his senses, but more likely, he was simply afraid of the unknown. This is evidenced by the appearance of Jung’s new girlfriend – he was, after all, most of all attracted by the psychological effects of a liaison “on the side”.

Throughout the whole act, Jung engages in real moral masochism. Freud sees this clearly and points out the root cause. Jung does not want to see this and this is the main reason for their breakup.

The founder of psychoanalysis is not a moralist at all. He is disappointed in his colleague not because he violates ethics and has an affair with a patient, but because he is a hypocrite and lies – this, in his opinion, is unworthy of a psychoanalyst.

Freud himself was also often wrong. However, unlike his younger colleague, he was able to realize and admit his mistake. He was a true scientist – persistent and courageous. And at the same time he was ready to take responsibility for his ideas. Jung constantly utters beautiful words and puts forward interesting hypotheses. However, he has no desire to take responsibility, and therein lies the danger, first of all, for himself…

At the very end of the film, the director comes to the conclusion that in its “pure” form, psychoanalysis, like many other scientifically grounded therapeutic developments, can hardly be considered dangerous. People can make it so. This is especially true of those who have something to be afraid of.

patient and doctor of A Dangerous Method
A frame from the movie A Dangerous Method

Related movies

Here are a few movies that are somewhat similar to A Dangerous Method in meaning and plot:

  • Hysteria (United Kingdom, France, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, 2010). 1880, England. Mortimer Granville, a medical school graduate, treats female overexcitement in a very piquant way.
  • The Soul Keeper (Italy, France, UK, 2002). Dr. Carl Jung tries to cure a young patient using the method of his teacher, Dr. Freud.
  • Kinsey (USA, Germany, 2004). The movie tells the story of a sexopathologist, Alfred Kinsey.
  • When Nietzsche Wept (USA, 2007). The film tells about Nietzsche’s relationship with one of the founding fathers of psychoanalysis, Breuer.
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