Secrets of a Soul

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A silent film about the talking cure which tells the story of the outbreak, psychoanalytic treatment, and cure of a knife phobia in a man, who has been living for some years in a happy but childless marriage. A murder next door and the return of his wife's cousin from abroad release in him a desire to murder his wife, which he does in a nightmare, but which a sudden inability to touch knives of any kind prevents him from carrying out in reality. Distressed to the point of suicide, he flees to his mother's house where he remembers a psychoanalyst, who had previously recognized his state of mind, and whose help he now seeks. During months of treatment, telescoped into three sessions of intense dream interpretation, the analyst takes the analysand through the presenting problem back to the original childhood trauma and forward into health via a cathartic abreaction as unconscious processes are made conscious.

Originally conceived as an educational film (Lehrfilm) with a booklet explaining the basic tenets of psychoanalysis in simple yet scientifically correct language, and based on an actual case history supplied by Karl Abraham and Hanns Sachs, the film developed into a full-length feature film with a cast of famous actors directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst. Hailed as a masterpiece on its first showing in Berlin on March 24, 1926 it remains a milestone in the history of European cinema.

By contrast, it sparked off an intense controversy among psychoanalysts. Siegfried Bernfeld and Adolph Joseph Storfer used Vienna and the Verlag to publicly accuse their Berlin colleagues of bringing psychoanalysis into disrepute by presenting it in a facile and bowdlerized version and tried, unsuccessfully, to launch a rival project of their own. Freud, who from the outset had expressed his doubts about he feasibility of the Berlin project, was supported in his opposition to the making of any psychoanalytic film by Max Eitingon, Sándor Ferenczi, and Ernest Jones.

The even-handed review printed in the Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse but not in the International Journal of Psychoanalysispraised Abraham and Sachs for what they had achieved within the limitations imposed by the medium, and Sachs's booklet as a textbook on the essentials of psychoanalysis. But it also made the point that the resolution to psychic conflict as presented was similar to the cathartic abreaction as described by Freud in his first two American lectures, and concluded that the film did not represent psychoanalysis as a whole, but the quintessence of "psychoanalytic therapy."

Paul Ries

See also: Cinema criticism; Cinema and psychoanalysis; Germany; Sachs, Hanns.

Source Citation

Pabst, Georg Wilhelm. (1926). Geheimnisse einer Seele (Mysteries of a Soul ). Newmann-film de Ufa-Kulturabteilung, Berlin.


Fallend, Karl; and Reichmayr, Johannes. (1992). Psychoanalyse, Film undÖffentlichkeit : Konflikte hinter den Kulissen. In Fallend and Reichmayr, (Eds.): Siegfried Bernfeld oder Grenzen der Psychoanalyse Frankfurt am Main: Stroemfeld-Nexus.

Harnik, Jenö. (1927). Psychoanalytischer Film. Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse, 13, 580-581.

Lacoste, Patrick. (1990). L'Étrange Cas du Pr. M. Psychanalyseà l'écran. Paris: Gallimard.

Ries, Paul. (1995). Popularise and/or be damned. Psychoanalysis and film at the crossroads in 1925, International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 76, 759-792.

Sachs, Hanns. (1926). Psychoanalyse. Rätsel des Unbewussten. Berlin: Buchdruckerei Lichtbildbühne.

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Secrets of a Soul

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