Decent Insanity

Michael Ignatieff

Huston-Sartre, Sartre-Huston: an odd couple, but not an inconceivable one. Huston wasn’t scared or contemptuous of intellectuals, and he had even directed Sartre’s No Exit in New York. The Freud oeuvre was hardly natural material for Hollywood, but Jones’s biography and the version of the Freud-Fliess letters then just published led Huston to think that Freud’s discovery of the unconscious would make a gripping intellectual adventure story. He also hoped the picture would send his audience out into the street ‘in a state of doubt as to their own powers of conscious choice or free will’. For his part, Sartre had once dismissed Freud as a doctrinaire mediocrity, but the neurotic trajectory of genius traced by Jones was, curiously enough, to raise Freud in Sartre’s estimation. ‘That Freud of yours, I must say, he was neurotic through and through,’ he remarked at the time to an analyst friend, with an odd note of admiration and possibly self-recognition. Like Huston, he began to see Freud’s discovery of the unconscious as a highly cinematic descent into hell. They even agreed on the incredible proposition that the imaginary young patient – Cecily – should be played by Marilyn Monroe. Sartre apparently thought she was the greatest actress in the world. Not least, they agreed on the money: $25,000 was to be Sartre’s fee. That was about all they agreed on.

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