Graphic of a two-headed lizard from eXistenZ

Transcript: A Dangerous Method: Research - Part 1

CHRISTOPHER HAMPTON: Both of us were very anxious to make the film as authentic as possible. So really, nothing was invented – except some speculation of the nature, of the relationships of the various characters. But, nothing that’s said, as far as we could establish, was different from what in fact was said and the letters were all… I mean there might have been a sentence from one letter combined with a sentence from another letter, that sort of thing. But they were not, it didn’t seem to me really an interesting thing to do, to invent for these people because they were such fascinating people and what happened to them and the various stages they went through at this pioneering time of inventing psychoanalysis. It didn’t seem appropriate to make stuff up.

I had already had my breakthrough experience: when I was writing the original screenplay and I went to Zurich to do research there. I went in particular to the Burgholzli Hospital, which was where Jung had been the Assistant Director at the beginning of our story. It’s not there now, but at the top floor they had a small Jung museum of memorabilia, of one sort or another. The attendant or the curator, said that he had known Jung, that he had been an orderly in the hospital when Jung was practicing there. We got to talking about the Jung estate and the Jung family. I said, “I understood that they were quite watchful and protective?” He said, “Yes, indeed.” Although he had only wanted to set up this museum in homage to Jung, he had been given rather difficult time in setting it up and felt unappreciated for what he had done.

Anyway, this conversation sort of, I suppose, broken down the barriers between us. I was struggling with my German, as usual. He said, “Is there anything in specifically that you are interested in?” I said, “Yes, I’m interested in one particular patient of Dr. Jung.” He said, “Do you know roughly when they were admitted?” I said, “Yeah, roughly the 4th of August 1904.” He said, “Well, come with me. I’m closing up here.” We closed up the museum and he took me down to the basement, where there was an archive. He got off the shelf, a volume for 1904, and he found the case notes for Sabina Spielrein, typed by Jung, presumably, with Jung’s handwritten notes in the margin. He said, “There it is.” It was about fifty pages, I suppose. He said, “You’ve got half an hour.” I said, “Uh.” He said, “Look, I’m going to leave you alone. There is a photocopier in the corner.” So I photocopied the case notes and took them home and that was the seed and the beginning of the whole thing.

No one had seen them and no one had written about them. And certainly the book, A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr, which was the basis of our film, had not had access to these notes. Indeed, he had speculated in his book that the treatment had only lasted four or five weeks. Whereas the case notes proved that there could have been a six-month process. Indeed, all of the dialogue in the film comes pretty much out of these case notes. In fact, it caused a little bit of a legal problem in the National Theatre. We’re anxious about… because in fact, you’re not supposed to, even if it’s more than a hundred years ago, you’re not supposed to use people’s medical case notes.

Fortunately it turned out that in the time between my discovery of these notes and the five or six years that had passed between that and the production at the National Theatre, a German medical student had been given access to the notes and had quoted them pretty extensively in his PhD Thesis at the University of Munich or somewhere. So, technically, once they’re out in the academic world, the problem goes away. So we were able to…that was where it all began.