In 1904, the 19 year-old Russian Jewish Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) is admitted to Burgholzi clinic under the care of Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) who is beginning to adopt the talk-therapy methods of psychoanalysis promoted by Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). 

She is hysterical and difficult to control, but she is also bright and has been studying to become a doctor. Jung slowly breaks through her resistence using dream interpretation and word association; eventually she reveals that her mental distress has its origin in her relationship with her father. He would punish her physically and she found it sexually exciting. 

The married Jung is obsessed with his patient and seduces her. They conduct a heated affair that entails sessions of bondage and beating, that they pursue almost like a scientific experiment.

On this background, Jung is becoming the protégé and anticipated heir of Freud—but they disagree over whether or not psychotherapy can cure. Spielrein recovers and goes on to become a physician and psychiatrist who develops her own methods of therapy. Freud comes to admire her and Jung is torn by jealousy. 


Based on the true story of Sabina Spielrein (1885-1942) who had once been the patient of Jung. She returned to Russia and developed a career in child psychiatry but was murdered with her two children and thousands of others 1942 by the Nazis. Her significance to the development of psychoanalysis has been the subject of recent scholarship.

Primary Source

Based on the stage play, The Talking Cure by Christoper Hampton and the book A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr