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Young Dr. Freud retraces the early life of Sigmund Freud, from his birth in 1856 to the publication of his landmark book The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900. With Freud's own words, vivid recreations, and the commentary of psychoanalysts and scholars, this two-part special examines how Freud created the revolutionary theories that have become part of the fabric of 20th century life and thought, shaping our notions of identity, memory, childhood and sexuality.
Part One - Struggling with the Demon
As a young scientist at the end of the 19th Century, Sigmund Freud is fascinated by the brain, but unable to earn enough money to marry the woman he loves, he abandons research for a career in medicine. While studying medicine, he experiments with the new "wonder drug" cocaine, hoping to discover a radical new treatment. But his efforts fail. An aspiring neurologist, Freud travels to Paris, where doctors are trying to understand the mental illness known as "hysteria." Here, he witnesses the seemingly miraculous treatment of the illness with hypnosis, which sometimes offers temporary relief. His interest piqued, Freud commits himself to finding the cause of hysteria and its cure. He returns to Vienna and begins medical practice treating nervous disorders. To cure his patients, he tries, then abandons, hypnotism, inventing instead his own unusual treatment based on "free association" and interpreting dreams.
As he struggles to formulate his theories, Freud is tormented by migraine headaches, heart palpitations, and depression. To his horror, he comes to believe that hysteria is caused by childhood sexual abuse, but his colleagues roundly reject his theory. Freud, however, is convinced that he has found the key to unlocking the secrets of the mind, but his father's death throws him into turmoil.
Part Two - Opening the Eyes
Still wrestling with his own demons and isolated from his colleagues, Freud reluctantly abandons the idea that hysteria is caused by childhood abuse. Instead he implicates the power of fantasy and wishes, forces hidden away from conscious awareness. To better understand his patients and to alleviate his own suffering, Freud begins to analyze himself, and discovers, in part by analyzing his own dreams, an inner rivalry with his father, and long submerged feelings of passion for his mother. He comes to believe that such deep-seated emotional conflicts are powerful and likely universal - a theory which becomes the basis of the now-famous "Oedipal Complex." Concluding that dreams are the gateway to understanding the unconscious mind, Freud throws himself into the creation of a seminal work on the subject, The Interpretation of Dreams, which would forever alter our conception of the human mind.
Produced by David Grubin Productions in association with PBS and Devillier Donegan Enterprises. Additional funding provided by The Dana Foundation