Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Saturday, March 2
The Indiana Daily Student

arts

PBS presents Sigmund Freud analysis

NEW YORK-- What is it about Sigmund Freud that makes us feel anxious? \nIs it his bearded, stern countenance? That business with the cocaine? The way he, under the auspices of science, turned a cigar into a phallic symbol? \nWouldn't it be a lot more comfortable without Freud in our lives -- where Mom is just Mom, not some taboo love object, and a cigar is always just a cigar? \nDream on. Freud may make us feel defensive or conflicted (both are terms he coined), but we can't escape his influence, even when the couch we're on is the one facing our television. We hear fractured Freud on "The Jerry Springer Show.'' We find mob boss Tony Soprano talking to a shrink about his mother. \nA century ago Freud rocked our world and we're still pondering the tremors, says filmmaker David Grubin, whose documentary, "Young Dr. Freud,'' airs on PBS Wednesday at 9 p.m. EST. \n"Other than psychoanalysis, I don't think you can point to a field that's had such a profound effect on us that owes its creation and its history to one single man,'' says Grubin, settling on his office couch (though seated, not recumbent) for a session with a reporter. \n"Thanks to Freud, we not only call a slip of the tongue 'a Freudian slip,' but we also assume it has a deeper meaning. We accept that we're not transparent to ourselves, that we're driven by irrational forces that are out of our control. These are scary ideas. They are his ideas.'' \nGrubin's film traces the journey of the young Viennese scientist in the late 19th century -- most of it traveled inside his head and others'. \nFreud had first set out to study the brain. But with medical science helpless to cure "hysteria,'' a mysterious affliction whose diagnosis meant a lifetime shut away in a psychiatric hospital, he saw no choice but to develop a theory that transcended the brain's biology and focused on the mind. \n"The science of Freud's day couldn't answer the questions he was asking,'' says Grubin. "So he came up with deeper answers.'' \nHe tried using cocaine as a treatment for depression (and used it himself), but abandoned those experiments early on. \nHe treated patients with hypnosis. Then he evolved a different way of tapping into a patient's unconscious state: by engaging the patient in a process of free association. \n"Freud said, 'There's this thing called 'the unconscious.' Let's investigate it, let's try to understand it.' And he placed a tremendous emphasis on childhood. He said, 'Things happened back there that are really important. We better take a look.''' \nThis was the beginning of psychoanalysis, at a time when the closest equivalent to "talk therapy'' would have taken place with a priest or a barkeep. \nOf course, Freud wasn't the first guy to suspect that the mind can have a mind of its own. \n"Poets and philosophers had long understood that there are unseen forces within that are driving us,'' says Grubin. "It goes back to Socrates and the idea, 'Know thyself.' But that's a very complicated thing to do. Freud systemized this investigation.'' \nDevising a system was no cake walk. Not only was Freud living in a society that was squeamish about sex and dubious about his inquiries, he also was saddled by depression, migraines and his own deeply rooted fears, including issues with his mother. \n"He had to look into his own heart,'' says Grubin, "as well as his patients'.'' \nWith the 20th century's arrival, he had another four decades of work facing him. But in "The Interpretation of Dreams,'' published in 1900, the 44-year-old Freud declared his basic theories of identity, memory, childhood and sexuality. They have shaped our self-understanding ever since. \nFine. Now, how was Grubin supposed to put this Id Parade on film? \n"Freud lived a very uneventful life. It was all inside,'' says the 58-year-old filmmaker, whose past subjects have included men of action like Napoleon and both Roosevelts. "What does this guy Freud do all day? He gets up in the morning, sees his patients, has his dinner. Then writes. That's basically it.'' \nTo tell Freud's story, Grubin interviewed experts, tracked down archival photos and documents, and, along with dramatizing key events from Freud's life, enacted scenes to illustrate his dreams and fantasies. \n"I wanted to understand how he created this thing called psychoanalysis that has changed the way we think about ourselves,'' Grubin says. "I also wanted to see the human being underneath Freud's creations. \n"He's a man who never says, 'I can make you happy,' but instead, 'I can help you live better,''' notes Grubin, the session drawing to a close. "But even that makes people nervous.''

Get stories like this in your inbox
Subscribe