Freud: a TV series that leaves a trace
Although Freud is an explicitly commercial product, some features of the protagonist’s personality are represented with an undeniable liveliness: the irresistible anxiety of knowledge, the immoderate ambition, the anti-authoritarian attitude, which often borders on arrogance and cheekiness, and the addiction to cocaine .
Advertising message I confess that for some time now I have been finding it increasingly difficult to approach film or television productions. The constant display of grim and bloody violence and the representation of a perverse and animalistic sexuality have almost completely alienated me from the small and big screen.
I made an exception for the Freud TV series that recently appeared on Netflix. Like other analysts, I struggle to escape a somewhat forced interest in the founding father of psychoanalysis. Imitation, antagonism, voyeurism undoubtedly contribute to this phenomenon, moreover well known in the analytical environment.
Freud is an explicitly commercial product. It does not aim to reconstruct Freud’s biography or personality in a realistic way. Freud is undoubtedly a genre product, a costume film that blends the Sherlock Holmes detective story with the occult fantasy. Those who have passed middle age have undoubtedly thought of the well-known Belfagor series, or The Louvre ghost of the 60s.
Europe fin de siècle showed an interest in occultism. Great artists, intellectuals, politicians, aristocrats, even monarchs could not resist the appeal of mediums and spirit sessions. In this atmosphere the director Marvin Kren drops Freud and the characters of his environment. Some have more or less historically realistic traits (for example Breuer, so wise and paternal, some members of Freud’s family, the angelic and salvific Martha). Others retain only the name of contemporaries, colleagues and friends of Feud. It should be remembered here that Freud was notoriously rather skeptical of the irrational culture (see the XXX Introduction to Psychoanalysis lesson) and it seems that this was one of the points of disagreement with Carl Gustav Jung, his best known pupil.
The structure of the story is typical of a Hollywood product. Like Frodo Baggings in the Lord of the Rings, Freud brings together a group of positive characters, determined to challenge the forces of moral and political evil and scientific obscurantism. Like the comic superheroes, these defenders of humanity show various specializations: Freud knows and treats the unconscious, Kiss is endowed with superhuman strength, Beurer dispenses advice worthy of the talking cricket, the medium Fleur Salomè unleashes the forces of the occult.
Many colleagues were unable to complete the viewing of the movie. They reported poor artistic quality, or expressed unease and outrage over the abuse of Freud’s name for such a simplified character.
I, on the other hand, did not miss an episode. I would like to try now to explain to you what drew me to the end.
Of the first Freud, the director has mainly captured the interest in states of consciousness: the hypnotic trance, the dream. And it has adopted an absolutely coherent narrative module.
The filmic reality oscillates repeatedly, and without evident solution, continuously between daytime experience and dream. We can see the father of psychoanalysis commit suicide or incestuously join his mother, the fierce Kiss kill his double, the medium Fleur cyclically relive the atrocious traumas of childhood. Pre-Oedipal material, loaded with blood, violence and perversion, pours in abundance on the spectator, only sometimes expertly linked to psychological, political or cultural history (in this respect, a real gem is undoubtedly a very creative and artistically effective use of pre-Christian Hungarian mythology).
Often, however, the feelings of horror, mourning, excitement melt with a serene awakening of one of the protagonists. Kren allows us to immerse ourselves reversibly in a frankly schizoparanoid atmosphere, which we soon perceive will be destined to dissolve in a happy ending.
The Freud series therefore entices the public with a story that is often compelling and cathartic. For those who have chosen the path of psychoanalysis, however, the film has some more gluttonous surprises in store and poses more delicate questions.
The extraordinary physical and physiognomic similarity of the protagonist Robert Finster with the young Freud is undoubtedly a challenge. On an evidently fictitious and fantastic plot, abundant and precise references to Freud’s private and family life stand out: the conflict with the father, the feud with his brother-in-law, the long postponed marriage, even the mythical hand resting on Martha’s leg under the table.
Some features of Freud’s personality are represented with an undeniable vivacity: the irresistible anxiety of knowledge, the immoderate ambition, the anti-authoritarian attitude, which often borders on arrogance and cheekiness. And above all cocaine addiction.
Advertising message The great geniuses of humanity are subject to inevitable idealization mechanisms. It is clear that such a crude, but not totally unrealistic, representation of the founding father of psychoanalysis can create significant discomfort in those who, like me, have built their professional lives by following as much as possible the footsteps of the Viennese doctor. Freud himself, however, taught us that the specific goal of the psychoanalytic enterprise is the search for truth. And we certainly cannot renounce this mandate.
I think the main merit of the series is precisely to represent the ambiguities and conflicts of the master in a lively and realistic way: a hero ready to challenge the medical-scientific establishment in the interest of the patients entrusted to him and of humanity in general and in the at the same time an ambitious and highly competitive scientist; doctor voted body and soul to professional ethics, but also a regular drug user.
The representation of the father is subject to inevitable splitting mechanisms. Psychoanalysts trace their professional ethics back to the ascetic choice of the founding father, but in the corridors they love to attribute various extramarital successes and murky incest stories to them. Responsibility for caring and feelings of narcissistic omnipotence, parental function and seductions of an imaginary enjoyment are daily components of professional transference as well as work on countertransference for each of us. In short, despite all its limitations, the Marvin Kren series told me something about my intellectual and professional life, and I am grateful for that.