Dangerous Method: Michael Fassbender as Jung

David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method” plays at the Venice and Toronto Film Fests and will be released by Sony Classics in November 2011

All the historical figures in the drama were at key stages of their lives, when the story took place.  Thus casting, which is always crucial in Cronenberg’s films, became all the more essential now.

Says producer Jeremy Thomas: “This is an exploration of the human mind through characters that are young. Jung is 30, Freud is 50, Sabina is 20, and Otto Gross is early 30s.

Michael Fassbender (Jung), Viggo Mortensen (Freud), Keira Knightley (Sabina), and Vincent Cassel (Gross) were all actors that were desired by director Cronenberg for these roles, and they were all magnificent choices.

Sabina Epstein: Keira Knightley

Sabina Epstein was on of the first female psychoanalysts, a pioneer in her special 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 version, 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 woman (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 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 the ideas of both men.

Cronenberg explains what compelled him t bring these complex true-life figures to the screen: “With ‘Dangerous mind,’ 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 lead 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 a trios, not that Sabina was in sexual relations with Freud, but still there was love in each part of the triangle, including between Jung and Freud. There was incredible affection and friendship between them.”

Carl Jung: Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender, the versatile, much in demand young actor, was chosen to play Carl Jung. It was a character he was thrilled to take on, as he was intrigued by this relatively unknown episode in Jung and Freud’s lives.

As Fassbender explains, his feeling is that Sabina did influence both of these men in their work: “According to the information writer Hampton gathered, she did have an influence on Jung in terms of his ideas of introvert and extrovert within personalities.

I really don’t think she has been given credits for her influence on both men.  There was an interesting dynamic between the three, and Sabina brought to the forefront a sort of rift between the two.  But she was also somebody that really wanted them to remain collaborators, because she recognized it could potentially set back psychology 100 years or so if they didn’t continue to work alongside each other.

What makes Dangerous Method interesting is that it’s a slice of these famous people’s lives that we weren’t aware of—with another little kink or twist to it.”

For Fassbender, the opportunity to work with Hampton’s script and with director Cronenberg greatly appealed to him.

As the film unfolds, the dynamic of the relationships between Jung’s forward-thinking character and his mentor Freud, his wife Emma, his patients Sabina and Otto Gross, who encouraged him to cross boundaries, are relationships which many of the audience can relate to.

Says Fassbender: “The feeling of the scenes is very accessible, because you see they’re actually just human beings, doing things to each other that we all do.  They have the same lusts and jealousies. There’s a lot of play here with these characters.  They were brilliant people, but with that comes ego as well.  I think that’s interesting. People when they’re cornered and the reactions they have, and how they deal with people around them, sometimes the closest people to them.”

Real-life Jung

Carl Jung suffered a prolonged nervous breakdown during WWI, from which he emerged to become, eventually, the world’s leading pschiatrist.  Jung outlived his wife, Emma, and died peacefully in 1961.