Viggo Mortensen

Viggo Mortensen
A Dangerous Method 2011

A Dangerous Method, directed by David Cronenberg and starring the trio of Mortensen, Knightley, and Fassbender, is an unusual story to make it to the big screen. It's not about gun battles or car chases. Instead, it's a highly intellectual look at how two greats of psychoanalysis, Freud and Jung, went up against each other.

Freud was the older man, and Jewish. His work on psychoanalysis was ground-breaking. Many at the time did not believe in a subconscious. His work on the subconscious laid the groundwork for many other subsequent discoveries. However, his being Jewish was not a minor issue. It caused many people to discredit the work of "those Jews". Then came in Jung - a "respectable" non-Jew who people would believe in. Freud appreciated the importance of this development and grew to consider Jung as a son.

Freud aimed for loyalty (although some say he did stray with his sister-in-law). Jung aimed for pleasure. He had a number of affairs, including many with patients. One such patient was Sabina Spielrein, played by Knightley. He first "cures" her and then has sex with her. Many people would find this to be a bit unethical. The movie shows his qualms - and then how he gives in anyway. The movie seems to delight in the fact that their sex is of the bondage style, with her being tied up while being beaten. So certainly they found ways to liven up the plot.

It's interesting that, in reading many reviews, half the people seem to find Knightley's performance to be spot-on, while the other half thinks it's grossly over-acted. Maybe it all depends what types of mentally ill people one has worked with. I can imagine that most don't act like this - but I can also imagine that some do. Apparently the team did substantial research into the three lead characters' parts, and I would have to guess that there was some substance behind the way the character was portrayed. I didn't mind it myself - I know people who have quite severe tics and gestures. It is part of the way they cope with life.

I am sad that the movie seemed to indicate that the big split between Freud and Jung was solely because Jung slept with Splielrein and then lied about it. It was actually a much larger schism in the way they viewed the world. It was hinted at, with Freud saying he wanted to focus on scientific realities and Jung wanting to believe in the occult and cosmic forces.

Still, a good look at a fascinating moment in intellectual development.

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The Ego and The Id - Sigmund Freud
After watching the movie, I finally got around to reading The Ego and The Id, which I'd bought several years ago. It's good to remember that, back when this was written, the idea of a subconscious / unconscious was startling and new. Many people didn't believe in it. The idea that one's mind could resist against itself to "hide things" seemed bizarre. Freud was the one (or at least one of the more vocal ones) to help bring this idea to the masses. He talked about the ego being the logical part of the brain trying to balance between the passionate desires of the id and the controlling morality of the super-ego.

Freud also talks about how some patients, at their core, don't *want* to get better. They feel they should be punished for something, and that their illness is that just punishment. They feel this was subconsciously. So when they start to get better, they resist, and retreat into their ill behavior. To them it is a safe refuge. But again they don't know they're doing this. They just do it.

Certainly we've learned much more about the brain since then, but it's a fascinating look at a moment in time in the progression.

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