A Guide to Modern Playwrights, Plays, and Productions
The Talking Cure

“The Talking Cure” as produced by the National Theatre in London was one of Christopher Hampton’s best plays, in a career of outstanding works .that include “The Philanthropist,”  “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” and “Tales from Hollywood.”  His talents extend to translations  and adaptations as well, with  versions of “Uncle Vanya, “Hedda Gabler,” “A Doll’s House” and Moliere’s “Don Juan.”  His awards include a Tony for best book of a musical, for “Sunset Boulevard” and a BAFTA award for best single television drama for his adaptation of Anita Brookner’s novel “Hotel du Lac.”

Mr. Hampton received an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for the movie version of his play “Dangerous Liaisons.” He also wrote the film adaptation of his play “Total Eclipse,” about the lives of the French poets Rimbaud and Verlaine, with Leonardo Di Caprio and David Thewlis in the leads, and was screenwriter and director for Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Agent.”

“The Talking Cure, ” with Ralph Fiennes as Jung concerns the beginnings of psychoanalysis  known as a “talking cure” for the mentally ill.  Alternately depressed and hysterical, eighteen-year-old Sabina Spielrein (Jodhi May) is a highly intelligent patient at Zurich’s Burgholzi clinic 1904, where Jung, a student of Freud’s, decides to treat her with the new method. (It will be discovered that the root of Sabina’s affliction is in her childhood association of paternal punishment with sexual arousal.) Jung and Sabina become lovers, but, fearful because he has broken the prohibition of sex between doctor and patient, he then rejects her and says their affair was her sexual fantasy.  This leads to a breach between Jung and his mentor, with Freud (Dominic Rowan) taking over Sabina’s treatment.

The theories of the two fathers of psychoanalysis become dramatic in the hands of Mr. Hampton, Freud’s “insistence on the exclusively sexual interpretation of clinical material,” and Jung’s that “there’s so much more, so many mysteries, so much further to go.” But the contribution from Spielrein has gone largely unnoticed.  In the 70s the playwright was researching her letters and Jung’s notes for a screenplay he wrote (though not filmed) as a tribute to her pioneer role in the Jung-Freud story.  In the play, it is she who contributes the human element, somewhere between their interpretations.

She was to influence Jung, not only as his first patient in successfully using the “talking cure.”  She helped him with his research in word associations and suggested to him the “anima” theory, that in the “animus,” there is a female principle that subconsciously influences men.  Mr. Hampton also suggests that she inspired Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious and  Freud’s idea of the connection between sex and the death wish.  After qualifying in medicine at Zurich University, Spielrein went to Vienna to study with Freud.  She became the first woman member of Freud’s group of followers, taught at Geneva’s Rousseau Institute and then, returning to Russia in the 1920s, taught at the Department of Child Psychology at Moscow University.  Tragically, when psychotherapy was banned by Stalin and she returned to her native Rostov to work as a doctor, in 1942 she and her two daughters were among the Jewish victims killed by Hitler’s invading troops.

Directed by Howard Davies, “The Talking Cure” affair ends when Spielrein, pregnant and at the beginning of her career, meets Jung for the last time on the shores of Lake Zurich in 1913.  He tells her that without her he would not have developed his psychoanalytical concepts and that she was the greatest love of his life.