Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) arrives at the Burghölzli, the preeminent psychiatric hospital in Zurich, with a typical case of hysteria and begins a new course of treatment with the young Swiss doctor, Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender).
He is using word association and dream interpretation as part of his approach to Freud’s radical new science of psychoanalysis, and finds that Fraulein Spielrein’s condition was triggered by the humiliation and sexual arousal she felt as a child due to her short-tempered father’s habit of spanking her naked.
These conflicting feelings were compounded by her instinctive knowledge (imparted by an angel’s voice that speaks in German) that she had done nothing to deserve such a punishment and in fact that she may have been a stand-in for her mother in her father’s abuse (since her mother was unfaithful). Also, her affluent Russian Jewish family afforded her an exceptional education in preparation for university study, although not on the subject of sex, and she was a virgin.
Her intelligence and energy were immediately recognized and encouraged by Jung and Eugen Bleuler (André Hennicke), the head of the hospital, and since she plans to study medicine they allow her to assist them in their experiments, including measuring the physical reactions of subjects during word association, to provide empirical data as a scientific basis for psychoanalysis and ameliorate the more sensational aspects of Freud’s (Viggo Mortensen) theories, which contend that all mental illness is rooted in childhood sexual experience, be it real or fantasy.
She soon learns that much of this new science is founded on the doctors’ observations of themselves, each other, and their families, not just their patients. The doctors correspond at length before they meet, and begin sharing their dreams and analyzing each other, and Freud adopts Jung as his heir and agent.
Director: David Cronenberg
Year of Release: 2011
Character to watch: Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud.
Journal your answers to the following questions after you watch the movie.
- How does this particular character’s journey compare with yours?
- Did the character develop certain characteristics during the movie that you have or that you would like to have? If so, what are those characteristics?
- What obstacles did this character face? What was his or her biggest challenge?
- What would you have done differently if you had been in the same position as the character?
- Is this character the type of person you would be friends with? Why or why not?