Sunday, January 08, 2012

Canadian director Cronenberg does a microscopic history of psychoanalysis in "A Dangerous Method" (remember "Spider"?)

It’s appropriate for me, in reviewing David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method,” to first recap some of my own experience with psychotherapy and “analysis” of sorts.

The “diagnostic interview” started with an “emergency” visit at 6 PM to a psychiatrist in NW Washington Nov. 30, 1961, two days after my William and Mary expulsion. Then was a period of visits to a therapist on Glebe Road in Arlington, in a second floor office of a high rise apartment. He would suggest the inpatient experiment at NIH, which started in July 1962.

Each patient had individual therapy three times a week. There was group therapy, family therapy, family art therapy, unit government, and group activities.  And I was the only patient who went to college nights. 

The individual therapy sessions went around in circles, as I looked for the grand revelation, that magical fix. 

The therapist seemed to want to prod into my fantasies, and face what purpose the fantasies served.
The female patients tended to be less intact than the males, because of how they had been selected. I can only guess what their individual therapy might have been like, but an early scene in the film gives a hint.

A somewhat violent femalel Sabina (Keira Knightley) is brought into a Swiss mental hospital in 1904. Although there are some shock scenes (cold bath), the main therapy is the  “talking cure”.  Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) proposes to “just talk” a couple hours a day, sitting behind her so she can’t see him.  At the beginning, she is hard to control. She is what I called (in my NIH days) a “g.d. MP”.

He uses the methods of psychoanalysis he has learned from Sigmund Freud.  He gets her out of herself, and into expressing the at first unbelievable goal she has of becoming a doctor herself.   Then he travels to Vienna to meet Freud (Viggo Mortensen) himself.  Their potential disagreement begins to develop, as Freud has a surprising aversion to too much escapist fantasy.   Jung begins to fall in love with his patient, while still acting dutiful to his wife (Emma Sarah Gadon).

The film is sketchy on the substance of most of Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis, but provides an alternative with Sabina’s ideas, once she is well enough to be ready for real life and school. Sabina says that sex necessarily requires that one put his ego at risk for loss, or at least for a person’s sense of change into something else.  That sounds like a theory of marriage, where the man and woman are transformed into new sense of self with permanent love, while abandoning earlier modes of fantasy that had been used to build the ego. (That point seemed to come out in my own experience at NIH in 1962). 

In the 1970s, I was connected to a group in New York City called the Ninth Street Center, founded by Paul Rosenfels, whose best known book is “Homosexuality: The Psychology of the Creative Process” (1972), reviewed in Books blog April 12, 2006.  Sabina’s ideas sound predictive of Paul’s theory of “polarities”, where personality specializations are independent of biological gender.  (The group is known today as The Paul Rosenfels Community, link here )   Paul had authored several other books in his days of working as a psychiatrist, such as “Love and Power”.  I do have at home a DVD with BW footage from the talk groups in the 1980s.

The film is distributed in the US by Sony Pictures Classics, but by Lionsgate in Britain and Universal in some countries.  It was produced by resources in Canada, Germany and the UK.  The official Sony site is here

The music score, adapted by Howard Shore, uses a lot of the music from Wagner’s Siegfried, including a piano rendition of the “Siegfried Iydll”.  There is a scene where the “Ride of the Valkyries” is played on an old victrola dating to just before World War I (the main part of the movie runs through 1913).

I saw the film late Saturday night at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington in front of a moderate crowd. 


In early 2003, I attended a screening of Cronenberg’s “Spider” at the Landmark Lagoon Theater in Minneapolis, with Cronenberg present for a Q&A.  That film followed mentally ill man released to a halfway house in Canada. I remember the menace of the simple quilt images. 




No comments: