Psychoanalytic Nightmares on Film

We’ve been anxious to see how one of the most fascinating directors working today, David Cronenberg, explores the dynamic between famed Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Austrian neurologist, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen).

A Dangerous Method details the intense working relationship between the colleagues as they nurture the fledgling discipline of psychoanalysis. Examining the connections between the conscious mind with its unruly counterpart, the subsonscious, it’s fitting that the tale candidly plunges beneath the rational facade. Jung’s sadomasochistic affair with troubled patient — and early psychoanalyst — Sabina Spielrein is the erotic undercurrent beneath the professional veneer of the two titans’ collaboration.

Celluloid psychoanalysis hasn’t always been accurately portrayed — often leaving audiences with a ludicrous caricature of the complex study, or rolled out as an expository postscript. Nonetheless, cerebral exploration has been a ceaseless fount of filmic inspiration, and a current imbued with dramatic charge. Undertaking a terrifying survey of human mentality exposes those dark and unhinged things that tease our perverse attraction to sex and violence, and pries fearlessly into the intangible world of dreams. Though the movies can’t always evidence fluency in sage shrinks like Lacan, Mahler or Fromm, here are 10 films that peel back the layers of civility to divulge unsettling visions of a shadowy, deeper self.



Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, dismissed his 1945 noir mystery Spellbound as “just another manhunt story wrapped up in pseudo-psychoanalysis,” but the movie was one of the first films to explore serious psychological concepts — a theme the prolific director made an entire career out of. The film also found a woman (Ingrid Bergman) in the lead role of “detective” — or in this case, a psychiatrist, who helps Gregory Peck’s character uncover the secrets of his tortured past. Hitchcock’s penchant for the Freudian appears in the form of repressed memories, surreal and symbolic dream sequences, and a dash of Oedipus complex. Perhaps trying to sell the idea to himself (the director was said to be skeptical of psychoanalysis), Hitchcock included this opening credit in Spellbound to prepare audiences for the strange mystery ahead:

“Our story deals with psychoanalysis, the method by which modern science treats the emotional problems of the sane. The analyst seeks only to induce the patient to talk about his hidden problems, to open the locked doors of his mind. Once the complexes that have been disturbing the patient are uncovered and interpreted, the illness and confusion disappear…and the evils of unreason are driven from the human soul.”