Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Forever Jung

“I was in analysis with a strict Freudian and if you kill yourself they make you pay for the sessions you miss.” —Woody Allen

The “dangerous method” in the title of this week’s Film Forum screening A Dangerous Method is the psychoanalytical method, the so-called “talking cure.” In the days before Prozac and other psychopharmaceuticals and happy pills, psychoanalysis was the preeminent method for dealing with mental illness, and still is in many cases. Imagine, however, if ads for psychoanalysis had to have those lengthy lists of possible side effects like drugs do (many of which sound worse than the things they’re supposedly curing). One of them would almost certainly be “transference.” And maybe dry mouth (from all the talking).
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. 
Transference is defined as “a phenomenon in psychoanalysis characterized by unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another.” Transference can take the form of a person redirecting certain feelings from a past (especially a childhood) relationship onto a current one—such as when a person dates someone who is a dead ringer for a parent—or it can involve a patient redirecting his or her feelings toward the therapist. While those feelings are often erotic, other emotions can be transferred to the therapist, such as mistrust, “parentification,” or even a kind of deification. Transference was first described by Sigmund Freud, who felt that it was an obstacle to psychoanalysis, but also that understanding the unconscious underpinnings of the transference was the clue to understanding the symptoms that drove the patient to analysis in the first place.

(By the way, a somewhat related phenomenon in psychology is “projection,” or when “a person subconsciously denies his or her own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then ascribed to the outside world, usually to other people.” However, it would be incorrect to say that the Film Forum’s projectionist ascribes her own emotions to others. She does nothing of the kind.)

One of the dangers of transference is that it can give a therapist power over the patient and the therapist’s own counter-transferences (or exploitation of the patient’s transferences) can cause a great deal of damage—and is highly unethical. An unethical analyst can easily manipulate the patient into sexual thoughts and feelings toward the analyst—and, eventually, actual sex. Or, in the case of A Dangerous Method, a patient can use transference to coerce an analyst into crossing that line. 

A Dangerous Method features two of the most important figures in the history of modern psychology: the Big Guy himself (Freud, played by Viggo Mortensen) and his star student Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). The movie is based on Christopher Hampton’s play The Talking Cure, which was in turn based on John Kerr’s 1993 non-fiction book A Most Dangerous Method, which looked at the relationship between Freud, Jung, and a patient named Sabina Spielrein (played by Keira Knightley). (The book was the result of the then-recent unearthing of Spielrein’s diaries, papers, and correspondence with Freud and Jung.) Spielrein was initially a patient (or “analysand,” as they are called) of Jung’s, in fact the “test case” of Freud’s “talking cure,” which at the time (~1908) was still largely theoretical. She later became a student of Jung’s, and eventually became one of the first female psychoanalysts. (She is perhaps best known for her conception of the sex drive as comprising the instincts of both destruction and transformation—she’d have had a heck of a profile on Oh, and speaking of which, she was also Jung’s lover—thanks to our old friend transference, as well as some ideas about pleasure implanted in Jung’s mind by another patient of his (and maybe she tried to seduce him by wearing a Freudian slip?). Spielrein later became Freud’s patient and, when he learned of the affair with Jung, he used it as a weapon in his ideological war with Jung.

What’s interesting is how Jung’s behavior confirms many of The Master’s then-nascent psychological tenets, becoming a textbook case of Freud’s “return of the repressed” (or would have been if there had been any psychological textbooks at that time).

Kind of makes that Zoloft prescription sound a lot less complicated...and have fewer side effects.

The Film Forum will be screening A Dangerous Method Thursday and Friday, February 16th and 17th, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, February 19th at 3:00 p.m.

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