A Dangerous Method (movie based on stageplay “The Talking Cure”; based on the book A Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein (Vintage) by John Kerr) portrays a complicated relationship between Freud, Jung, and Sabina Spielrein, who initially comes to Jung as a patient while he is working at the Burghölzli Clinic, a psychiatric hospital in Zurich. In traditional mental patient fashion, Sabina, swathed in white, evocative of a sheet restraint, is carried in by coachmen and orderlies.
While she is affecting the traditional gestures of the stereotypical madwoman, Jung introduces himself and suggests “the talking cure” in which Sabina, in a condensed version of the therapeutic timeline, willingly participates, and goes through the stages described in psychoanalytical theory.
This included “transference” in which doctor and patient are said to develop erotic feelings for one another. Initially, this being the Victorian/Edwardian age, and Jung having a lot invested in every way with his marriage, he restrains himself from acting upon impulses of this kind with this young female patient who openly discusses sexual situations and is becoming increasingly attracted to him. While we may never know what tilted the balance in real life, in the movie, it is Jung’s discussion with Otto Rank, who inveighs against repression in all its forms, including the sexual, arguing for the free flowing of transference, taking it to its logical conclusion, even if it means violating sexual morality and ethical standards, as a means of transforming the patient and helping them become what they are destined to become, even if it is not necessarily acceptable to the prevailing mores of the time. Of course, the fact that Rank may have developed this theory as a fig leaf for his own conduct, and that all of these pioneers in psychiatry engage in the moist abstruse of twists and turns to justify things that their wives and the larger society around them would find unacceptable, is seen only from afar by the viewer, perhaps it was not as clear to the people of the time and place. While it can be argued that Jung’s engaging in sadomasochistic sex with a sexually frustrated patient who derived guilty pleasure from parental punishments which had a sexual component can be seen as a form of psychodrama, it would have been considered inexcusable had his contemporaries known, and is considered so today. When Jung eventually ended the affair, Sabina voted with her feet for Freud. While it is unknown, and implied as unlikely, that Freud gave her the same sort of attention, it may also be that she’d moved on, in every sense of the word. Both of these great men of psychiatry derived many of their ideas from her observations, but she was not the beneficiary of the same kind of fame they enjoyed: while Jung supervised her dissertation, and had encouraged her to become a psychiatrist herself, both Freud and Jung ran with many of her ideas without giving her credit, and mocked some of her thinking which research has given validity to in the present day.
By the end of the movie, Sabina marries another and enters the field of child psychology, independently of what either of her mentors think. She has, in these actions, seemingly attained a sort of closure, afterwards returning to her native Russia to train psychoanalysts there.