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Quoting Keira
"All through my life what I've loved doing is watching movies. I love the escapism of film, I love stories. So it is incredible to be able to be in them as much as I am, to see them from the first stitch in a costume to the end product."
A Dangerous Method
Home » Career » Filmography | 2010-2019

Tagline: Based on the true story of Jung, Freud and the patient who came between them.
Keira as: Sabina Spielrein
Genre: Biography, Drama
Duration: 99 minutes
Written by: Christopher Hampton (screenplay), Christopher Hampton (play), John Kerr (novel)
Directed by: David Cronenberg
Other cast: Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Gadon, Vincent Cassel
Release date: November 23, 2011
Production budget:
Total worldwide gross: $27.4m
Filming locations: Vienna, Austria and Baden-Württemberg, Germany

On the eve of World War I, Zurich and Vienna are the setting for a dark tale of sexual and intellectual discovery. Drawn from true-life events, A Dangerous Method takes a glimpse into the turbulent relationships between fledgling psychiatrist Carl Jung, his mentor Sigmund Freud and Sabina Spielrein, the troubled but beautiful young woman who comes between them. Into the mix comes Otto Gross, a debauched patient who is determined to push the boundaries.

In this exploration of sensuality, ambition and deceit set the scene for the pivotal moment when Jung, Freud and Sabina come together and split apart, forever changing the face of modern thought.

Production Info
  • Filming took place over an eight week period.
  • In preparation for his role as Sigmund Freud, Viggo Mortensen read everything he could find on Freud and even visited his actual home (now a museum) in Vienna. In an attempt to capture aspects of Freud’s personality, Mortensen smoked his own Danish grandfather’s cigars that he kept in his grandfather’s personal cigar case over the course of the shoot.
  • The apocalyptic dream, described by Jung may refer to the beginning of World War I (1914-1918). During World War I Jung was drafted as an army doctor and soon made commandant of an internment camp for British officers and soldiers. Swiss neutrality obliged the Swiss to intern personnel from either side of the conflict who crossed their frontier to evade capture. Jung worked to improve the conditions for these soldiers stranded in neutral territory; he encouraged them to attend university courses.
  • According to Keira Knightley, at first she didn’t know how to play her character’s hysteria. When she read some of Spielrein’s notes she noticed the woman described her condition as being like “a demon or a dog”. Knightley then started to pull faces and contacted David Cronenberg through Skype to show him the results until they both agreed on how to portray the hysteria.
  • Keira Knightley joked on The Graham Norton Show that her first meeting with David Cronenberg was a Skype session where she had to demonstrate her character’s “weird sex faces” (which she had been practicing in the mirror beforehand). Skype apparently froze while she was pulling one of said faces.
  • Christian Bale was in talks to play Jung but he was never formally attached to the project and eventually left due to scheduling conflicts.
  • At Viggo Mortensen’s suggestion, Freud is smoking a cigar in every scene except the family dinner with Jung, where there was one waiting for him on set, just off-screen.
  • Matthias Schoenaerts auditioned for a role, the audition went well and the casting agents wanted to call him back, however, he had pledged his commitment to Bullhead, and had to let the opportunity slip.
  • Character Quotes
  • There’s no hope for me.
  • I’ve been thinking about Wagner’s opera. In it, he says that perfection can only be arrived at through what is conventionally thought of as sin, is that right? Which must surely have to do with the energy created by the friction of opposites. Not just that–you’re the doctor and I’m the patient but that you’re Swiss and I’m Russian. I’m Jewish and you’re Aryan and all other kinds of darker differences.
  • When my father brought me to you, I was very ill and my illness was sexual. It’s clear that the subject I’m studying is entirely grounded in sexuality. So, naturally, I’m becoming more and more acutely aware of the fact that I have no sexual experience.
  • Don’t you think there’s something male in every woman and something female in every man? Or should be?
  • If you ever want to take the initiative, I live in that building there. Where the bay window is.
  • When you make love to your wife, how is it? Describe it to me.
  • With me, I want you to be ferocious. I want you to punish me.
  • I could have damaged you, you know? Far worse than I did. I chose not to.
  • I must go wherever I need to feel free.
  • It’s not a question of sides. I have to work in the direction my instinct tells my intelligence is the right one.
  • Sabina: My father thinks my mother doesn’t love him. And he’s right, she doesn’t.
    Carl: How do you know?
    Sabina: My angel told me.
    Carl: What angel?
    Sabina: An inner voice. He used to tell me I was an exceptional person. For some reason he always spoke in German.
    Carl: Angels always speak German. It’s traditional.
    Sabina: He gave me the power to know what people are going to say before they open their mouths.
  • Professor Bleuler: I feel you may have a little too much time on your hands. I’m a great believer in getting our patients involved in some productive work. What are your particular interests?
    Sabina: Suicide. Interplanetary travel.
  • Carl: Any preliminary observations?
    Sabina: Obviously, what’s uppermost in her mind is her pregnancy.
    Carl: Good.
    Sabina: And she’s a little… What’s the word?
    Carl: Why don’t we try a useful word invented by our Herr Direktor? Ambivalent.
    Sabina: Yes. About the baby.
    Carl: Anything else?
    Sabina: I’d say she was worried her husband might be losing interest in her.
    Carl: What makes you think that?
    Sabina: Long reaction times to the words “family” and “divorce”.
    Carl: I see.
    Sabina: And when you said “cap,” she said “wear”. Might that be a reference to contraception?
    Carl: You have quite a flair for this.
    Sabina: Can I ask you something?
    Carl: Of course.
    Sabina: Is she your wife?
  • Sabina: Do you think there’s any possibility I could ever be a psychiatrist?
    Carl: I know you could. I hear nothing but good reports on your work at the university. You’re exactly the kind of person we need.
    Sabina: Insane, you mean?
  • Carl: On the subject of monogamy, for example, why should we put so much frantic effort into suppressing our most basic natural instincts?
    Sabina: I don’t know. You tell me.
  • Sabina: There’s a poem by Lermontov keeps going round my head. About a prisoner who finally achieves some happiness when he succeeds in releasing a bird from its cage.
    Carl: Why do you think this is preoccupying you?
    Sabina: I think it means that when I become a doctor, what I want more than anything, is to give people back their freedom. The way you gave me mine.
  • Carl: I’ve made a stupid mistake.
    Sabina: Is that what it was?
    Carl: I broke one of the elementary rules of my profession. I’m your doctor. And I believe I did you some good. I can’t forgive myself for overstepping the mark. I should have known that if I gave you what you wanted, you wouldn’t be able to help wanting more.
    Sabina: I don’t want more. And I never wanted more. I never asked for more.
    Carl: You didn’t have to ask.
    Sabina: And even if you’re right, which I dispute, do you think this is a proper way to behave towards me? Refusing to speak to me except in your office?!
    Carl: I’m your physician. From now on, that’s all I can be.
    Sabina: Don’t you love me any more?
    Carl: Only as your physician.
    Sabina: You think I’m going to stand for this?
  • Sabina: I’ve come here to ask you to tell the truth.
    Carl: What?
    Sabina: I want you to write to him and tell him everything. And then I want him to write to me again to confirm that you’ve told him everything.
    Carl: Are you blackmailing me?
    Sabina: I’m asking you to tell the truth.
    Carl: Why is this so important to you?
    Sabina: I want him to take me as his patient.
  • Sabina: I’m told you have a new mistress.
    Carl: Is that right?
    Sabina: What’s her name?
    Carl: Toni.
    Sabina: Is she like me?
    Carl: No.
    Sabina: She’s an ex-patient?
    Carl: Yes.
    Sabina: Jewish?
    Carl: Half Jewish.
    Sabina: Training to be an analyst?
    Carl: Yes.
    Sabina: But she’s not like me?
  • Quoting: Keira Knightley

    on her portrayal of hysteria: When you are reading a script that says, ‘has a hysterical fit, ravished by tics’. And you go, ‘OK, what does that mean? And what do you mean a tic?’ So really, a lot of the reading was based on trying to get descriptions of tics and trying to understand what that was. I wanted it to be shocking, because what was going on internally (for Sabina) was shocking. I just thought, I wanted to reflect that externally as much as possible, so I literally sat in my bathroom pulling faces at myself until I came up with this jaw thing. And I thought, ‘Well that looks vaguely demonic,’ and then I got on Skype with David (Cronenberg) and I had about two or three ideas and he went, ‘That one.’

    on researching the role: [I read] A Jung biography. And then ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’ and the letters between Freud and Jung. It was Nietzsche, a little bit of papers by Freud, papers by Jung and then I found a book called ‘Sabina Spielrein: A Forgotten Pioneer of Psychoanalysis.’ That was Jung’s notes on Sabina and then her dissertations and several papers, essays about her and then diary entries. So it was quite a stack.

    on her attraction to the role: I didn’t know anything about her (Sabina). I got sent the script and I just thought the story was completely fascinating. Obviously, I had heard of Freud and Jung, but I had never read anything about them really, and again, I didn’t know anything about their relationship either. So the whole thing fascinated me.

    on her reaction to the script: What I found fascinating about the whole story was that it showed the beginnings of psychoanalysis. It’s so much a part of our culture, with words like ‘ego’ or ‘complex’, that we don’t even think about when we use them today. Whereas then it was the very beginning and they were discovering a whole new way of treating people.

    on Jung and Sabina’s relationship: Sabina is mentally troubled when she first arrives at the hospital, but I think what takes Jung aback is that she’s extremely intelligent and also extremely brave and open. He’s been reading a lot about Freud and this form of psychoanalysis, as we call it now, and starts to use her as a sort of litmus test for this ‘talking cure’. She’s very responsive and I think her honesty, intelligence and her strength, and the fact that she’s beautiful, intrigues him and puts him off-balance.

    on Sabina’s attraction to Jung: I think at that time, being a woman, being Russian, and also having been through this horrendous illness, I think everything isolated her to a certain extent. I believe she almost certainly saw Jung as her salvation, as the person who had released her and given her freedom. With her sexual complex, which often shifted from one object to another, I suspect it was quite a destructive relations hip because that is the pattern of behavior that she fell into and I should imagine if she did transfer this particular complex onto him, that it would have been quite a masochistic relationship.

    on working with co-star Michael Fassbender: He’s just wicked. He’s hilarious. Michael and Viggo (Mortensen) are brilliant. Like I said, it was very focused when we were on set, but when we were off set, it was the World Cup, so we were just kind of watching soccer in various German bars the whole time, which was just brilliant. They’re a wonderful group of people, and Michael is just fucking extraordinary.

    on working with director David Cronenberg: He’s just wonderful. He’s like a horse whisperer: you don’t quite know how he’s doing it, or what exactly he’s doing, but you know that it’s happening. You know, he just creates the most extraordinary atmosphere on set. I think, often, sets are very tense places. They’re sort of like start-up businesses all the time, and run on the edge of chaos, which sometimes can be really helpful. When you’re stepping on to Cronenberg’s set, partly I think because he’s worked with the same crew, some of them, I think, for nearly 30 years, it’s like a really well-oiled machine. It’s absolutely calm, and so it’s like a completely different vibe. It’s incredibly supportive, incredibly creative, and people get their work done.

    Critical Response

    Eric Kohn, IndieWire:

    Keira Knightley bursts through with an intense turn as Spielrein, a woman equally capable of using her sexual prowess and her intellect to manipulate Jung into falling in love with her.

    A.O. Scott, New York Times:

    Ms. Knightley’s performance might at first seem grotesque and overdone. She twists her arms together and extends her lower jaw like a demented snapping turtle, stammering (in a thick Russian accent) and making her already prominent eyes pop out of her skull. But what looks like willful freakishness is crucial to the film’s logic, which depends partly on the contrast between Sabina’s hysteria and the respectable reserve of Carl and Emma’s domestic life, and partly on Sabina’s growing ability to understand and express herself.

    Peter Travers, Rolling Stone:

    The actors give it their all, especially Knightley, whose jaw- jutting, heavily accented and unfairly criticized portrayal gives the film its fighting spirit.

    Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter:

    Screaming and alarmingly jutting out her jaw in extremis, Knightley starts at a pitch so high as to provoke fear of where she’ll go from there. Fortunately, the direction is down; as her character, under Jung’s fastidious care, gradually gets a grip on her issues and can assess herself with a measure of intellectual composure, the performance modulates into something fully felt and genuinely impressive.

    Liam Lacey, The Globe and Mail:

    […] The young woman, a psychiatric patient named Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), writhes and juts out her chin like someone in the throes of demonic possession. The performance is risky, but the extremity of her condition sets up the miracle of her cure. After the initial shocking introduction, her condition subsides to a fevered simmer and her performance marks the film’s central dramatic journey.

    Awards and Nominations

    Below is a list of all accolades Keira has received for her role in the film.

    NOMINATED: Saturn Awards – Best Actress
    NOMINATED: Vancouver Film Critics Circle – Best Actress in a Canadian Film
    NOMINATED: Village Voice Film Poll – Best Actress