No doubt one of the most influential and controversial thinkers of the 20th century, Freud’s life and struggles speaks to our world today which is no stranger to the alternating violent and passionate forces that belie the human condition. So it is more than surprising that Freud’s biography has not found its way to the screen...until now.
This screenplay was engineered to stay as close to the written record and biographical accounts of Freud, his work and relationships, although any student of Freud will see that the author have taken liberties with the material to create the context and extrapolate possible back-story that belies the official record regarding the creation of Interpretation of Dreams and of Freud’s life. This is not an academic piece designed to educate the reader (or the audience,) although some education may occur, but to experience Freud as a man of his time, a scientist fighting to find a voice in a world full of ignorance, bias, racism, personal torment, and the courage to pursue his dreams to triumph against all odds.
Keywords: interpretation of dreams, psychoanalysis, psychohistory, Sigmund Freud, history of psychoanalysis
Introduction and History
Freud’s biography and the creation of psychoanalysis are so intertwined we can comfortably say they are one of the same. It is difficult to find another researcher who used more of his own self experience as the medium of scientific exploration than Freud. Much of what Freud put forth came from countless hours studying the nature of his patients’ complaints presented to him in private. That is how the label “talking cure” came into being, actually coined by Joseph Breuer from his famous Case of Anna O. The history of psychoanalysis is built upon people talking to each other, either one to one in session, small group meetings, and/or in a lecture hall or classroom. All this talk had literally changed the way people see the world, which has been both academically and clinically fascinating, but the truth is that people talking to each other in therapy doesn’t naturally lend itself to the visual-action medium of cinema, although there are a few notable exceptions to this.
Up to this current effort Freud’s life and with it the creation of psychoanalysis has mostly eluded filmmakers. In 1962 John Huston made a valiant effort in covering this material from a script by none other than Jean Paul Sartre. Sartre’s script, (which is an interesting story onto itself) however proved unwieldy and difficult to visualize and was later abandoned for a more concise and condensed treatment. The Huston film, with its shadowy, brooding style, and a tortured performance by Montgomery Clift as Freud, had its champions but received little public favor possibly condemning all future Freud projects in commercial film.
From the Huston film we have to travel forty years into the future to David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method (2011), to offer up an energetic screen adaptation about the early days of psychoanalysis from John Kerr’s exhaustively researched account of the Sabina Spielrein - Carl Jung - Sigmund Freud triangle. With a dashing Viggo Morgenstern as Freud, and a brave performance by Kiera Knightly as the jaw jutting patient/student-analyst Spielrein , plus a tortured Michael Fassbender as Freud’s challenging protégé Carl Jung, enabled Cronenberg (who’s no stranger to mind body conundrums) to vigorously translate the Kerr material into a striking exploration of the sophomore days of the psychoanalytic movement.
This work, The Secret of Dreams and the Case of Sigmund Freud attempts to do what Huston ad Sartre first conceived, that is, to return to the beginning, where it all started, to visualize Freud’s dramatic discovery of the psychoanalytic method, building from the period before the creation of Interpretation of Dreams, which Freud himself considered his greatest contribution.
I came to this material 20 years ago, when doing research for a book on the clinical use of the manifest or remembered dream. In my research I came upon an article by Erik Erikson’s (1954), The Dream Specimen of Psychoanalysis article. Erikson’s article decidedly pointed to Freud’s “Dream of Irma’s Injection” as representing the true beginning of psychoanalysis. The dream and its analysis offered the first presentation of what was come to be known as the free associational method. The dream and its analysis fills all of chapter two in Freud’s dream book, and is considered by many as the book’s true opening chapter. Once I was alerted to the “Irma dream” and its significance I began to discover a whole trove of articles and research devoted to the specimen or Irma dream and its analysis, especially pointing to the many biographical elements that were clearly omitted in Freud’s original analysis. Studying the dream and the subsequent commentary led me to Freud’s incredible back story that comprised the latent content of the dream. In 1995, around the hundred year anniversary of the Irma Dream (July 24th 1895), I proposed a book as a memorial to this landmark occasion which brought together all the research and writings on the specimen dream under one comprehensive text, although the publisher was interested the project didn’t’ come together and the idea remained untapped.
Near twenty years later, prompted by friend and colleague Inna Rozentsvit, I returned to my original research and published an article “Freud’s Irma Dream, The Origin of Psychoanalysis and a Bloody Nose” (MindConsiliums, 2014), which received a Gradiva® nomination in 2015. This article then became the driver of a mixed media presentation, using narration, live actors, music, power point and props, to give life to this subject, especially emphasizing the precariousness of Freud’s direction at the time. That presentation was the impetus and platform what was to become a more comprehensive piece covering the spectrum of Freud’s life, both before and after them publication of The Interpretation of Dreams. In other words, I thought it had the makings of a fascinating film.
I found that the nature of the material suggested a more visceral, visual presentation hence the screenplay format. Like in Citizen Kane or other films based on a larger than life central figure taking place over a lifetime, a film treatment has the flexibility to readily shift between time frames, characters, location, and even between reality and dream.
The reader is asked to read the material and to watch the film unfold in their minds, since it has not been produced as of yet. It would prove great fun to imagine who would play Freud and his many cohorts. I have engineered this project to stay as close to the written record and biographical accounts of Freud, his work and relationships, although any student of Freud will see that I have taken liberties with the material to create the context and extrapolate possible back-story that belies the official record. This is not an academic piece designed to educate the reader (or the audience,) although some education may occur, but to experience Freud as a man of his time, a scientist fighting to find a voice in a world full of ignorance, bias, racism, personal torment and the courage to pursue his dreams to triumph against all odds.
About The Author
Jack Schwartz, LCSW, PsyD, NCPsyA
Jack Schwartz, LCSW, PsyD, NCPsyA is a psychoanalyst/psychotherapist in private practice, NJ. He graduated from the New Jersey Institute for Training in Psychoanalysis, where he is a faculty member, lecturer and control analyst. He is a NAAP Nationally Certified Psychoanalyst, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor. He holds degrees from Fairleigh Dickinson University Yeshiva University (where he received the Distinguished Graduate Student Award) and International University. He served as the Senior Forensic Psychologist in Passaic County New Jersey for over 15 years, specializing in criminal investigations, probation, child custody issues, and has regularly served the court as an expert witness. Dr. Schwartz maintains a full private practice in Northern New Jersey, working with children, adolescents, couples and adults. He frequently lectures on dream analysis, PTSD, resilience and other matters related to the practice of psychoanalytic psychotherapy. He is a regular contributor to the New Jersey Institute Viewpoints newsletter, and is the editor for the NJ Clinical Social Worker highly regarded newsletter, the Forum. Dr. Schwartz has written both short fiction, and technical articles on Dream Analysis and Holocaust Survivors, and has published a psychoanalytic novel, Our Time is Up, available on Amazon, soon to be an e-book. Dr. Schwartz’s article “Freud’s Irma Dream, The Origin of Psychoanalysis and a Bloody Nose” was published in multi-disciplinary journal MindConsiliums in 2014 (MindConsiliums). It had received a Gradiva® nomination from the National Association for Advancement of Psycho-analysis in 2015.
Contact Dr. Jack Schwartz at firstname.lastname@example.org