This is the story of the relationship between three of the founders of psychoanalysis: Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Sabina Naftulovna Speilrein.
Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightly) was born in the Russian district of Rostov-on-Don on 7 November 1885. She was "committed" to Zurich's "Burgholzi Psychiatric Clinic" by her Uncle where she came under the "care" of Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). Jung was mentored by Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen).
The film progresses at a very slow pace, and it took all my determination not to press the fast forward button. You also have to remember that the subject matter can be somewhat dry, even for me and it's my specialist subject.
Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel) is added to the mix, though briefly. Other than the debauched Gross giving Jung "permission" to have an extra marital affair, there appears to be no reason for his inclusion. There was much more to Gross than portrayed.
I am not a fan of Michael Fassbender (Prometheus, X-Men: First Class
) but his portrayal of Jung is excellent, and once you get over the fluctuating accent of Keira Knightly (Atonement
) - it fluctuates between an attempted Russian to American and back (not bad for a UK born woman) - she gives an interesting performance as Speilrein. The tour-de-force is from Viggo Mortensen (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
, A History Of Violence
) as Freud, his soft spoken but determined portrayal brought some life to a man who is often seen as cold and distant. Mortensen brings a humanity to the portrayal of Freud which is frequently missing (or ignored) by biographers and other actors.
This was an unexpected biopic from David Cronenberg (Scanners, A History of Violence).
I did one of my dissertations on the founders of psychoanalysis when I was a student so I was very familiar with Spielrein and the rumours that surrounded her relationship with Jung, but they were only rumours until a Freudian came across the letters and decided to "read between the lines". There is no proof of an inappropriate relationship between Jung and Spielrein.
Freud falls in and out of favour continuously, mainly because of his insistence that everything was sexually related. This may well have been because Freud had "mommy issues" and, if we are being honest, these issues had issues of their own.
Speilrein studied under both Jung and Freud, and her theories and papers, though initially dismissed by both men, were later adapted into their own work. She suffered as a psychoanalyst due to the fact that the two men who mentored her were at war for control and domination of the field and she was in the middle - in order to get at the other (a frontal attack would have caused more harm to the area of psychoanalysis) they each took turns in negating her work.
It is now acknowledged that it is more than likely Speilrein's problems were due to the abuse (physical, emotional and sexual) of her father and other men in her family, such as the Uncle who had her committed. Speilrein qualified as a doctor and then became a psychoanalyst. It is known that a lot her work was influenced by her own introspective experiences as a child and an adult.
Sabina Spielrein tends to be little known, especially in comparison to the likes of Jung and Freud, even though she was one of the first female psychoanalysts.
Speilrein returned to her home in Rostov-on-Don where she opened her own psychoanalytical clinic.
On the 11th and 12th of August 1942 the inhabitants were rounded up by the Nazis and massacred. More than 27,000 people were murdered. Speilrein and her two daughters were amongst the many woman and children taken into a synagogue and shot.
The movie has English subtitles, English Soundtrack, English Audio Description. There is commentary by David Cronenberg, and a "Making of" mini documentary.