Six people destined to change the world meet in Vienna in 1910 on the eve of the First World War.
Vienna is the crossroads of civilization: art, music, science and politics but beneath its façade of frivolity and joy, the city is rotting at its core, sickened by moral corruption, obsessed with death and ravaged by hatred of the Jews.
Against this background, Gustav Mahler, the great composer and conductor, falls in love with the beautiful, tempestuous Alma. Their passion flairs but their love is doomed and Gustav seeks the help of Sigmund Freud to save his marriage.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, destined to become a dominant force in world philosophy, runs into an old schoolmate, with unpleasant consequences. Wittgenstein expounds his hatred of women to Gustav Mahler and reveals his inner demons to Freud.
Freud psychoanalyzes Mahler and uncovers deep psychic trauma. Joseph Stalin, passing through Vienna, tries to recruit Alma into becoming a Bolshevik revolutionary and meets a man over a game of chess -- a man with whom one day he will engage in a titanic struggle to the death. In the end, Freud faces what he has always denied: the essential evil nature of man. And, in a gesture of compassion, Freud almost destroys the world.