A DANGEROUS METHOD portrays the true life events of a decade long relationship between three pioneers of modern thought and founders of psychoanalysis, Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, and Sabina Spielrein. Through the discovery of Spielrein's diaries and correspondence with Freud and Jung, the film is able to reveal somewhat unknown aspects of these individuals' lives. Justice is accomplished in the meticulous care paid not only to the behaviors and intricacies of each character, but also to the individual and cultural views of human behavior as the pioneers explored varying thoughts about how to interpret these behaviors.
The accuracy of the film's portrayal was enhanced not only by filming on location in Vienna at both the Burgholzli Hospital and Freud's home, but also through the use of dialogue taken directly from the correspondence between Jung, Freud and Spielrein. Additionally, it is interesting to note that even the distinct images that explore the behaviors of a young, afflicted Spielrein are direct interpretations of the hospital records which note that the 'patient laughs and cries in a strangely mixed, compulsive manner. Masses of tics; she rotates her head jerkily, sticks out her tongue, twitches her legs… Cannot stand people or noise.'
When Spielrein arrived at Burgholzli Hospital at the age of eighteen, she had been very protected from sexuality and sexual information. She was assigned to Dr. Jung, the newly qualified doctor, as his first patient and records indicate that he diagnosed her as 'hysteric'. Jung decides to attempt a new technique on Spielrein, one he had read about in a book by a Viennese neurologist, Sigmund Freud. The technique is psychoanalysis, later dubbed the 'talking cure' – the dangerous method that inspired the film's title. The audience quickly learns of Spielrein's history of physical abuse and complex dysfunctional family relationships as well as her association between pain, love, and ultimately pain providing her sexual gratification. This intimate style of therapy is "dangerous" in that you are unsure of what it may uncover and can lead to blurred boundaries between patient and doctor. This proved to be the case for Jung and Spielrein; however, it also proved to be a powerful healing process demonstrated by the fact that Spielrein's behavior and mental clarity greatly improved in just a year.
Throughout this difficult and challenging case, Jung looked to Freud for advice and input, thus marking the commencement of the historic six year partnership between the two men where they challenged, debated, and explored many concepts in the search for an answer to the question of what was the basic driving force behind human behavior and what led to episodes of mental illness.
Following Spielrein's treatment, Jung continued an intellectual relationship with Spielrein, as she began studying to become a psychoanalyst herself. At the same time, Jung began treating a new patient, fellow psychologist Otto Gross (played by Vincent Cassel) at the request of Freud. Gross, who strongly believed in not repressing any desire, lived a life of excess and indulged in all things forbidden by society. Gross' influence transformed Jung and Spielrein's intellectual relationship into a sexual interlude as Jung was looking for validation and approval to act on a desire he knew to be against his better judgment. However, this indulgence in a sexual relationship with Spielrein proved to be even more powerful and healing for her; normalizing her "taboo" desires to experience pain via spankings and other submissive behaviors strengthened her mental health while the transgression may have weakened Jung's.
The film explores their relationships from Spielrein's entry to the hospital in 1904 until the dissolving of the intricate partnership of Freud and Jung in 1912. Though Freud may be more of a celebrity, the film is clearly from Jung's perspective, exploring his thoughts, beliefs, and challenges when faced with making decisions such as succumbing to his sexual desires towards a patient, Spielrein, as well as going against the rigid ideas of his mentor, Freud. Jung had been a long admirer of Freud's prior to their first meeting in Vienna in 1907 where they engaged in a thirteen hour long conversation. This initial meeting of such great minds marked Freud's discovery of his heir. But Jung had never entirely accepted Freud's theory. Their relationship began to cool in 1909, during a trip to America, where they were entertaining themselves by analyzing each others' dreams when Freud seemed to show resistance to Jung's efforts and said that they would have to stop because he was afraid he would lose his authority! Jung was insulted, and the relationship was never the same. Jung and Freud met face to face for the last time in 1913 for the International Psychoanalytical Congress in Munich, Germany. Jung gave a talk on psychological types, the introverted and the extroverted type, in analytical psychology. This constituted the introduction of some of the key concepts which came to distinguish Jung's work from Freud's in the next half century.
Jung is noted for his work on self-actualization, understanding the human psyche, and his theories on personality. These concepts have become part of common language; for instance, introverted, extraverted, and having a sense of self are all Jungian terms. Freud is most known for the concepts of id, ego, and superego. Both Jung and Freud looked at the connection between the conscious and unconscious mind, but ultimately differed on theories of how they connected. Additionally, though Spielrein is not often referenced in the history of the development of psychoanalysis, her theory of the sexual drive as being both an instinct of destruction and an instinct of transformation preceded both Freud's "death drive" and Jung's views on "transformation." This illustrates how she inspired both men's most creative ideas. Spielrein also brought psychoanalysis to Russia and is associated with works of renowned child development theorist Jean Piaget, prior to being executed with her two daughters in the Holocaust. Each was brilliant in their own right, but their relationships with each other expanded their creativity to remain inquisitive in a common drive to understand themselves as well as the behaviors of others.
A DANGEROUS METHOD began life as a screenplay in the mid-1990's. Academy Award® winning screenwriter Christopher Hampton had a keen interest in psychoanalysis, and spent a great deal of time researching the relationships between Jung, Freud and Sabina, visiting the Burghölzli hospital in Zurich where he read her case history. These intelligent figures greatly appealed to Hampton, as he explains, "These people were pioneers and psychoanalysis was a revolutionary idea. It opened many closets and revealed many taboos. At the end of the nineteenth century, great currents of new ideas were brought into being which opened up a whole new way of thinking about society."
Hampton went on to develop the material into a stage play called The Talking Cure, which had a successful run at the National Theatre in London with Ralph Fiennes starring as Jung. A few years later, acclaimed auteur David Cronenberg asked Hampton to adapt the play into a new screenplay for him to direct. As Cronenberg elaborates, "In Christopher Hampton's original play I knew I had found a rich vein to mine for the screen. This tale of emotional variance, overshadowed by the portents of WWI, promised an insight into two intense and inextricably interwoven relationships. The fact that the characters were gifted true-life figures, and that the triangle of Jung, Freud and Sabina resulted in the birth of modern psychoanalysis, made it all the more tantalizing to me." Hampton began to develop his play, weaving historical events and quotes from the real-life personalities into a dramatic story of a debate of ideas. Cronenberg took the project to his good friend Jeremy Thomas (the Academy Award® winning independent producer), who has a reputation for working with highly individual filmmakers and had previously teamed with Cronenberg to make the critically acclaimed and award-winning films Crash and Naked Lunch. For Thomas, the appeal was immediate. As he explains, "The exciting pairing of director David Cronenberg with the great playwright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton would be too rare an event for me to miss. The opportunity to work with David again on a project of such note seemed a natural fit with this very interesting clash of ideas on screen. There is an enormous amount of dueling in the dialogue which I thought could be very attractive to watch when played by very good actors, and have an impact on an audience when directed by a wonderful director with a magnificent score." For Hampton, the opportunity to work with Cronenberg, a filmmaker he admired, was one he approached with relish: "I think David has a unique combination of extremely cool objectivity, and pretty violent engagement. A really original combination which fits this story very well, because it's a story about people who are attempting to operate the rules of civilization and steer their patients towards 'the norm', whilst becoming increasingly aware that there is no norm and that they themselves, like all of us in certain respects, live right out on the wild fringes and have to cope with these contradictions as best we can. David is a wonderful director to encompass these contradictions and make sense of them." For his part, Cronenberg was captivated by the idea of directing a film about three charismatic figures from history, including Sabina; a relatively unknown figure who greatly influenced both men professionally. As he says, "Sabina was someone who contributed hugely to the theories of both men, something that no one knew until a cache of letters was discovered, her letters to and from Freud and Jung, and their letters to her. Their passion came through their articulation, their theories and their abstract thoughts. They were really quite fascinating people and it's a fantastic story." For Thomas, a producer widely recognized for his distinctive films, this little-known story was one he knew he had to bring to the screen, "I have always been drawn to make unusual stories that often involve extreme behavior. At the heart of A DANGEROUS METHOD is a fascinating story that highlights how even those who understand humanity best can fall prey to mankind's most basic emotions. Love, sexual passion, ambition, deceit, emotional breakdowns, explosive disagreements and apocalyptic dreams set the foundation for the pivotal moment when Jung, Freud and Sabina came together and then split, forever changing the face of modern thought. These intimate dynamics twinned with the broader span of history is what makes this film irresistible for me."
When it came to choosing actors to portray these historical figures, all of whom were at key stages of their lives when the story took place, specific casting was crucial. As Thomas says, "This is an exploration of the human mind through characters that are young. Jung is thirty, Freud is fifty, Sabina is in her early twenties and Gross in his early thirties. Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, Keira Knightley and Vincent Cassel were all actors that were desired by David for these roles, and I thought they were magnificent choices."
Sabina Spielrein was one of the first female psychoanalysts, a pioneer in her specialist field of child psychology. Yet, she is barely mentioned in the history of psychoanalysis, despite the fact that in 1912 she presented to the Psychoanalytical Society her conception of the sexual drive as containing both an instinct of destruction and an instinct of transformation. In this presentation there is strong evidence that Sabina influenced the work of both Jung and Freud; from Jung's ideas of archetypes of the feminine in men and the masculine in women (transformation), through to Freud's theory of the sex instinct and the death instinct. Freud later acknowledged in one of his books that Sabina led him to this path of thought, whereas possibly due to the nature of their relationship Jung never publicly acknowledged that her ideas had influenced his thinking.
It was only with the discovery of Sabina's hospital records, her personal journals and correspondence with Jung and Freud, which has now been published, that it became apparent she inspired both men's ideas.
Cronenberg explains what compelled him to bring these complex true-life figures to the screen: "With A DANGEROUS METHOD, I sought to make an elegant film that trades on emotional horror, but loses none of its power to seduce. I was stimulated by offbeat and intimate details that illuminate the three leads themselves, and that give a sense of what it must have been like to be at once trapped and liberated by their cerebral and physical bonds. It was a strange ménage à trois, not that Sabina had any sexual relations with Freud, but still there was love in each part of the triangle, including between Jung and Freud; there was an incredible affection and friendship between them."
Cronenberg has long standing relationships with his creative team, most of whom have worked together with him for decades. He trusts his collaborators, which encourages them to give their best, bringing with it a shorthand and confidence. Cronenberg blocks the scenes with his actors in a private rehearsal, followed by a rehearsal with the crew and time for the lighting set-up before the scenes are filmed. With a career spanning over thirty years, Cronenberg has perfected his shooting style and effectively edits in his head as he shoots. As Cassel elaborates, for both cast and crew there is no ambiguity, "What's really very clear about David is that he is clear. He knows what he wants, and that confidence spreads down throughout the set. And it's always a question: you know, people say, "What are the different styles of this director and different styles of that director?" But with all the really good directors that I've worked with it's about clarity. It's the most important thing. The notes that David gives are concise and he works with a very sort of easy confidence throughout the day."
The look of A DANGEROUS METHOD was very much a shared effort from the production design and lighting, through to the costume and hair and make-up design with each department working together to compliment Cronenberg's direction, Hampton's script, and the work of the actors.
Carol Spier, Cronenberg's long-time production designer, was involved with the technical recces and the designs, before passing the production designer mantle over to another veteran member of the close-knit Cronenberg team, James McAteer. When it came to the actual creation of the sets, McAteer and his team showed Cronenberg study models with scaled furniture to allow him and the other departments to get an idea of the space before drawing up the finished designs.
It was decided the sets would be somewhat muted and de-saturated, with Freud's heavy smoking of cigars influencing the design with a cigar smoke patina. This, coupled with the simple color palette of the costumes: black suits, white shirts, pale dresses and grey nurse's uniforms, informed McAteer's design decisions. As he explains, "The key for me was to create a neutral tone behind the costumes so they would be crisp. I basically referred to it as our sense of "being polite": that is, don't interfere with the wardrobe or the dialogue. The sets sit quietly behind and let those things come to the forefront, which is what it is about: supporting the actors and the dialogue."
Cronenberg and director of photography Peter Suschitzky have worked together for over twenty years. Much like McAteer, for Suschitzky it was important that the lighting and camerawork complimented the script and actors, as he says, "My concern was to make it look and feel like a film rather than like filmed theatre. We haven't introduced extravagant movements, sometimes we've moved the camera but only when it felt right to do so. We filmed in quite a straight way, an honest way without trying to jazz it up because we have actors of enormous quality and dialogue of intelligence and I think that will carry the film."
McAteer and his department referred closely to reference photographs for the set design, paying particular attention to Jung's study and Freud's study where many of their ground-breaking theories were conceived. They did extensive research before building the sets and replicating the original rooms, from the furniture right through to the smaller details. The production was fortunate to be loaned Freud's original study chair, which he designed himself. Though the unique chair dates from later than the period when the film is set, it was too exceptional an opportunity to pass up, especially for an actor such as Viggo Mortensen who draws inspiration from the far-reaching research into his characters.
Like the real version, the set for Freud's study was a room full of dark wood and crammed with books, relics, artifacts and antiquities, of which many cluttered his desk. This all added to the claustrophobic feeling during the scene showing the first marathon conversation between Freud and Jung, where they talk together into the night. As McAteer comments, "There was no room to run, and the heavy feeling that we wanted to create with the set worked well for the dialogue, to make it claustrophobic as two people talk intensely."
This was one of the most important sets for Mortensen's character and his observation of this most intricate of sets was one of immense pleasure, "I've worked with Carol Spier and James McAteer before and they are incredible. The design of the set is amazing and I don't think there's a set that's more interesting in a way. I don't say that just because it's for my character but it is a remarkable job that they've done with Freud's study. Because I know them I could say to them, "I've been to Vienna, made some trips before starting shooting and I found a lot of books." I did research on what he read for enjoyment and academically, and I found a lot of these books in old bookshops in Vienna, and who knows, maybe one of them was his that would have been in his library."
A significant design detail which could not be neglected was penmanship as the writing and receiving of letters is a central element of the script, given this is how Jung first made contact with Freud and in large part how their professional relationship develops, as well as the letters that Sabina sent to both men, and received from them. The art department found period pens that worked for the cast to use and created examples of Freud and Jung's writing. In turn, Mortensen made the decision to spend time practicing writing in German in the style of Freud in order to be able to write on camera.
A DANGEROUS METHOD is set in a distinct stylistic period, which allowed costume designer Denise Cronenberg to immerse herself in research, along with her assistant costume designer Nigel Egerton in research. Cronenberg was absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to do this, having spent much of her career designing costumes for films set in the modern day or the future. As she elaborates, "In terms of costume it is fascinating to work with a script that spans this period of time. We cover 1904 through to 1913, and I had all the costumes made for the lead cast at CosProp in London where I chose the fabrics and styles. It was a huge job but wonderful and lots of fun. I've never chosen so many pieces of lace in my life!"
As with the production design there were reference photographs, in particular of Jung and Freud, for Cronenberg to refer to when designing their costumes. For men of their status it was an era of real elegance, though the age difference and their own individual styles meant the two men did not dress in entirely the same way. During the period, frock coats were seen as indicative of status, particularly for men of learning.
When Fassbender put on the spectacles and costumes of his character he was immediately transported to the world of Jung. As he explains, "There was a real elegance about the time and it always helps when you put on a costume. You do all your homework at home and then slowly you put on the shoes that the character wears, and all the intricate little things, like a pocket watch. It helps to give you that certain way of sort of holding yourself, and I love all that."
When it came to researching Sabina's look, it was discovered that not many photographs of her existed. With Emma Jung being pregnant for much of the film and few photographs of pregnant women available from that time, it meant Cronenberg had to create everything from scratch for the female leads.
As Emma Jung, Sarah Gadon was designed a number of beautiful costumes. As Gadon enthuses, "I think Denise did such a beautiful job creating a color scheme for each character, and really paying attention to the kinds of fabrics and cuts a woman would wear. When you're working on a period piece it's so beneficial to have everything there in terms of the costume, hair and makeup. Because it really is about creating the character, and to become my character, the pregnant belly, the costume, and hair and make-up, made it feel authentic."
The costumes for the women slowly evolve over the course of the film. The necklines in 1904 were high-necked Victorian blouses and the cut of the clothes involved corsets and bustles. From 1910 the silhouette began to change, and by 1913 the skirts had become narrower. As Sabina makes the transition from patient to assisting Freud, she begins to mature as a woman, as too does her look from pale dresses and looser hair to more structured costumes, hats and hairstyles.
The Academy Award® winning make-up and hair designer Stephan Dupuis spent time studying archive photographs as part of his detailed research to ensure he and his team recreated the appropriate looks and hairstyles for the principal cast, as well as the extras and background cast of men, women and children. As part of his preparation process, Dupuis, a talented artist, sketched and painted his ideas from hairstyles for Sabina through to painting the nose of Freud onto photographs of Mortensen as a visual aid for the prosthetic piece he needed to make to fit across his nose. This piece, along with the many delicate moustaches, beards and hairpieces, all needed to look as natural as possible on camera.
Often when actors portray historical figures, particularly when there are well-known photos of them, there is an expectation from the audience that an actor will physically embody the character. The Sigmund Freud we see in A DANGEROUS METHOD is 50 years of age. This is perhaps a period in his life that people are not so familiar with, as the most famous images of Freud are of his later years when he became gaunt and white-haired and was suffering with cancer. Dupuis describes the careful transformation of Mortensen into the Freud of this period, rather than caricature; "We tried to make the likeness as close as possible with a prosthetic nose which looks as natural as possible, the eyebrows, a little hairpiece and the beard to make the chin look longer."
Three-time Academy Award® winning composer Howard Shore has worked with Cronenberg for over thirty years. Over the years they have honed their collaborations and it has become intuitive. As Cronenberg's career has progressed, Shore has matched him with the precision and detail he devotes to composing the music for each film, through discussion of the script and characters with Cronenberg as well as carrying out his own research. Shore was interested in the characters, and in reading the diary of Sabina discovered that much of the story came out through her own writing, which helped to connect him to the period, as well as to Jung and Freud.
The importance of the score, as a key element that accompanies the emotional trajectory of the script and visuals on screen, took on further significance as Jung and Sabina share a love of Wagner's opera Siegfried. As Shore elaborates, "The Siegfried myth is really at the centre of this story, and Sabina's relationship to Jung. This led me to the work of Wagner and his creation of the character. I wanted to adapt pieces that were expressive of the opera and try to relate them to the story of Jung and Freud. Sabina fantasized that Jung was Siegfried and she carried his unborn child and this character was very important to their story, and also Freud had a dream of destroying Siegfried. I wanted to bring that part of the story out through the music and connect the opera to the real life story of these characters, because it felt like they were living part of that opera in 1910."
The shoot for A DANGEROUS METHOD took place on location in Cologne, Bodensee (Lake Constance) and Vienna across eight weeks. The vast majority of the interior scenes for the Burghölzli, as well as Jung, Freud and Sabina's apartments were filmed on studio sets which were designed and built on the stages at MMC Studios in Cologne. In addition, a partial section of the SS Washington, on which Jung and Freud travelled to America, was constructed on the stage. For the interior scene at the Munich conference when Freud faints, the Villa Oppenheimer in Cologne was chosen for its period detail.
The production were delighted to be able to film across three days on location in Vienna, the home of Freud and his family for many years. Filming locations included the streets of Vienna in a horse drawn carriage and the exterior entrance and staircase to Freud's home, now the Freud Museum, at Berggasse 19. For Cronenberg and the cast and crew, particularly the actors, being on location filming in real places where the characters have been often added to the texture of their performance. As Mortensen describes, "To have the luxury of being able to visit Vienna and to shoot at Freud's actual house where he lived from 1891-1938, where he went up and down those stairs many, many times, it was extremely enjoyable to be able to do that."
Vienna was also the setting for the scene of the first epic meeting across thirteen hours between Freud and Jung, which takes place in the Freud house, the atmospheric Café Sperl and the stunning period gardens of The Belvedere. As Cronenberg recalls of the location recce that took place in Vienna, "Freud is synonymous with Vienna, and for us to shoot this movie and have scenes taking place in Vienna for three days is absolute gold. It's fantastic to feel the real history of Vienna. I was very excited when we discovered Cafe Sperl on our location recce because we were looking for a place for Jung and Freud to go and have a Viennese coffee and Sachertorte, and this is one of the most original Viennese cafés left in the city. It's incredible. We almost had to change nothing to make it feel like 1907."
Due to the modernization of its surroundings it was impossible to film at Lake Zurich; therefore the stunning Bodensee in the German state of Baden-Württemberg was chosen. Bodensee (Lake Constance) is a lake on the Rhine situated in Germany, Switzerland and Austria near the foot of the Alps. It was on an early location recce there that Cronenberg and his team became inspired by the fantastic landscape and a beautiful ferry boat named Hohentwiel to shoot in Bodensee. As travel by steamboat was seen as first class at the time, the detailed wooden ferry dating from 1903 which had been painstakingly restored was perfect. Bodensee provided the ideal setting and mode of transport for Jung and Spielrein's journey on steamboat across Lake Zurich, as well as other key scenes.
The script required further shooting on the lake, as Jung spent a great deal of time on the water in the handsome sailboat he received as a gift from his wife. A stunning authentic sailboat was hired for this purpose, and Fassbender was given sailing lessons by the owner.
For the art department, the biggest challenge on location in Bodensee was to recreate Jung's villa in Küsnacht, because it is a well-known house. The Jung family still live in the original house, and as it is over 100 years old, it was not suitable for the production as the script required it to look newly built and fresh. Co-producer Marco Mehlitz worked with the locations and art departments to secure appropriate locations across the shoot, and as he explains, "For Jung's villa we found a beautiful location on the shore of the lake with a beautiful property, but it was not the right kind of villa. This meant we had to take the decision to build a structure, which was a huge thing to do. I think the result is quite beautiful because we were actually able to build the house into a garden that was totally unspoiled." The art department constructed the front of Jung's house as well as planting a garden, with CGI work planned for post-production for the roof and other details.
Other scenes filmed on location in the area include; the grounds of the Burghölzli which were filmed at a monastery in Inzigkofen, Jung and Spielrein walking through cobbled streets which was filmed on location in überlingen, and the University town of Konstanz which gave the production the exteriors of the Burghölzli and Sabina's apartment and surrounding streets.