This film is beautiful to look at '-- costumes, settings, props all exquisitely presented. And the acting by all three principles is superb. For me, these are sufficient reasons to see the film. But if you know anything about psychoanalysis (Freud) and/or analytical psychology (Jung), you might find yourself rather bored. I did. I wasn''t expecting a perfectly accurate historical take -- nor did the film present one -- but I was expecting the focus to be on Freud and Jung''s relationship. Instead, this is a film about the relationship between Jung and Spielrein with the character of Freud in a fairly modest supporting role.
Sabina Spielrein comes to Dr Jung at the Bergholzei in Switzerland suffering from a violent case of what used to be called '"hysteria."' But instead of a reasonably explanatory presentation of how the 'talking cure' helps her recover, we get a (thoroughly fictional) sexual affair between Spielrein and Jung in which he turns her on by spanking her. Perhaps that was supposed to illustrate how '"dangerous"' the talking-cure method can be? If that is the case, it should be pointed out that virtually all methods of psychotherapy are potentially dangerous in this way, since they virtually all lend themselves to transference-countertransference events of varying intensities.
But since we already know that Cronenberg favours Freudian over Jungian theory, I rather think that the sexual affair is supposed to suggest that the Freudian position that sexual disturbance is at the root of every neurosis and psychosis is essentially correct, as distinct from Jung''s much more expansive view of libidinal vitality. We are, I think, supposed to conclude that Jung''s long period of emotional turmoil is a consequence of his trying to work through his own behaviour with Sabina: did it reinforce Freud's view over his own, or was it just a coincidence?
When one consults the available documents -- especially the letters between Freud and Jung, along with thoughtful biographies of each man -- one will discover that the relationship between these two profoundly intelligent and deeply sensitive personalities would make a gripping movie all on its own, providing there were a director and actors good at conveying emotion while still remaining true to Victorian reserve. For both men did suffer as a result of their high expectations of and disappointment in each other.