Blu-ray Review: A Dangerous Method

A Dangerous Method Blu-raySTUDIO: Sony | DIRECTOR: David Cronenberg | CAST: Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Vincent Cassel, Sarah Gadon
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 3/27/2012 | PRICE: Blu-ray $35.99, DVD $30.99
BONUSES: commentary, featurette, AFI’s Harold Lloyd Master Seminar with Cronenberg
SPECS: R | 99 min. | Biographical drama | 1.85:1 widescreen | DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1/Dolby Digital 5.1 | English and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Adapted by Christopher Hampton from his 2002 stage play The Talking Cure (which was based on the 1993 book A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr), David Cronenberg’s (A History of Violence) period drama A Dangerous Method looks at the beginnings of modern psychology as developed by two of the giants in the field, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Though it’s about a tricky subject and potentially one that might not be engagingly penetrated in a feature film, A Dangerous Method succeeds with its clear-headed direction, measured pace and a trio of excellent performances.

A Dangerous Method

Michael Fassbender (l.) and Viggo Mortenson star in A Dangerous Method.

Set on the eve of World War I, Swiss therapist Jung (Michael Fassbender, X-Men: First Class) sets the story in motion when he begins treating Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley, London Boulevard), a young Russian woman who suffers from intense nightmares and hysterical outbursts. Approaching the case with a “talking cure” form of treatment (the basis of what we call  psychoanalysis today), Jung succeeds in “calming down” Sabina, who eventually become the married physician’s assistant … and then his lover.

Over the years that this is going on, Jung engages in a communication with Freud (Viggo Mortensen, The Road), who has already gained much respect for his pioneering work in psychoanalysis. Though Freud and Jung are moving in the same general direction with their theories of the mind—as is Sabina, who also becomes a psychoanalyst, albeit a troubled one—their feelings on spirituality and personal approaches to their livelihoods ultimately lead each to each pursue their goals without the insight and guidance of the other.

A Dangerous Method is heady stuff, yes, filled with lots of provocative ideas about the sex and sexual repression, as well as the notion that “mind games” can be used for manipulation as well as positive treatment. Following a rather dry first half-hour when the characters, setting and period mores are established, Sabina and Freud’s “manipulation” of Jung begins to work its way into the film. As the ego and passions behind the characters’ intelligence bubble to the surface, the human drama gets more interesting. On a personal level, the doctors’ want their own theories to be right, while in the public arena, they want their ideas on psychoanalysis to command the respect they weren’t given in the early 20th century. “The moment they see us abandon the firm ground of sexual theory to wallow in the black mud of superstition, they will pounce,” declares Mortensen to Jung at one point. And he’s right.

Cronenberg presents the film’s “case” quite formally, going so far as to plant the camera in a stationary setting for two-thirds of the picture, a wise choice when one is dealing with a script and scenario that’s always evolving. That Fassbender, Mortensen and, eventually, Knightley, present their idea-filled characters with such clear, genuine feeling is a tribute to their embrace of the material which, admittedly, is not for everyone. But those who hop on for the film’s occasionally intense psychological ride will find it quite stimulating.

The supplemental package is a solid one, kicking off with Cronenberg’s latest insightful commentary track. He covers all the general aspects of A Dangerous Method’s production and its European locales, detouring at the appropriate times to talk about the film’s themes and point out certain moments that he’s particularly proud of (including a scene that finds Knightly slashing at Fassbender’s face with a letter opener).

A seven-minute making-of featurette give a general overview of the production, with the actors praising the material and their director and composer Howard Shore getting a chance to talk about his score and decades-long collaboration with Cronenberg.

Finally, there’s a half-hour-long “AFI’s Harold Lloyd Master Seminar with David Cronenberg,” an onstage interview and Q&A session with Cronenberg conducted in October, 2011. This piece finds Cronenberg further detailing the production and the collaborative efforts of his team. Though some of the material is covered in the other supplements, there are still some nice nuggets here, including Cronenberg offering his seasoned views on everything from casting to color schemes.

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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.