From Tzivi’s May ’12 Spotlight:

Tzivi’s DVD Collection

One of our biggest disappointments at the 2011 Chicago International Film Festival last October was David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, which he adapted for the screen with Christopher Hampton. (Hampton, an award-winning playwright and screenwriter, had based his 2002 stage play The Talking Cure on John Kerr’s book A Most Dangerous Method: The story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein.)

My husband Rich and I went in knowing a fair amount of psychoanalytic theory, having studied both men in graduate school and beyond, but the name Sabina Spielrein was new to us. Sadly, we found the film dull, pretentious, and egregiously miscast.

Keira Knightly fails utterly as “Spielrein,” a Jewish teen from a wealthy Russian family sent to Switzerland at the dawn of the 20th Century in hopes that young “Carl Jung” (Michael Fassbender) can use the new techniques of “Sigmund Freud” (Viggo Mortensen) to cure her hysterical outbursts. (Note that “hysteria” was a common diagnosis at that time for women who acted out.)

While Howard Shore’s Wagner riffs (heavy on the Siegfried) boom in the background, Spielrein and Jung conduct a ludicrous love affair, until Spielrein tattles, leading Freud to puff away on his cigar while musing thoughtfully about countertransference. Most surprising for a Cronenberg film, the silly spanking scenes are totally devoid of erotic energy, and none of the goings-on have any hint of frisson.

Now I have loved Viggo Mortensen (best known as the heroic knight “Aragorn” in The Lord of the Rings trilogy) in many films (most notably Good, A History of Violence, and A Walk on the Moon). But when he turned to the equally Nordic Knightly and said, with utmost sincerity: “My dear, we are Jews!” well, I started giggling and could not regain my composure until rolling credits finally released me.

You would never guess it from A Dangerous Method, but Sabina Spielrein was, in fact, a tremendously interesting and important historical figure in her own right, especially once she was liberated from her doomed relationship with Jung.

The details of her adult life (including her work in child psychiatry at the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute in Geneva when Jean Piaget was a student and her research on language development after returning to the Soviet Union in the mid-20s) are well-presented in Elisabeth Marton’s 2002 docudrama My Name was Sabina Spielrein.

Marton makes extensive use of a treasure trove of letters discovered in Switzerland in 1977. With voice-over readings and judicious reconstruction of key scenes with live actors, Marton traces Spielrein’s life from the time she arrived at the Burghölzli Clinic in Zurich in 1904 until her death in 1942 (when Nazi soldiers devastated the Jewish community of Rostov-on-Don during their siege of Stalingrad).

Released on DVD by Chicago’s own Facets Multimedia, My Name was Sabina Spielrein can be rented from Facets and Netflix or streamed on

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