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In what is a left turn, career-wise, the Canadian-born filmmaker David Cronenberg, who has spent a lifetime in Hollywood honing his skills in the special effects and crime genres (The Fly; A History of Violence; Eastern Promises; eXistenZ), has created instead a thoughtful and sexy film examining the beginnings of psychoanalysis. Thoughtful and sexy? Yep. A Dangerous Method, set in the early 20th century, revolves around the two titans of modern psychology, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), and the woman who would drive an irreparable rift between them, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). There’s where the “sexy” part comes into play.
This may not at first seem like a very interesting topic, after all, who wants to sit through 90-minutes of two psychoanalysts debating, but the overall outcome of A Dangerous Method, thanks to Cronenberg’s direction, Christopher Hampton’s screenplay, and three outstanding lead performances, is one satisfying, if somewhat uninformative film.
Freud, the big groundbreaker and creator of “the talking cure” is an imposing figure in the field at the beginning of the 20th century when Jung takes on a new patient, the Russian Jew Sabina Spielrein, and determines to try the new Freudian treatment to help her. The treatment begins to work, but Jung crosses the line from doctor to lover as the two slip into a sado-masochistic relationship. Meanwhile, Jung finally travels from his native Zurich to meet Freud in Vienna for the first time. Although their first meeting results in a long, half-a-day conversation, there is immediately tension. The two men are different in many ways, Freud, older, less affluent, and Jewish is suspect of the younger, richer, “Aryan” Jung. Jung, meanwhile, is reluctant to accept Freud’s conclusions that all mental issues stem from the sexual realm. All tensions between them come to a full boil when Jung’s illicit affair with Sabina Spielrein is finally brought to light and Sabina, an aspiring psychologist in her own right, chooses to work under Freud.
While A Dangerous Method is successful at portraying the methodical growth of tensions between these two founding fathers of psychoanalysis, Sabina Spielrein, who went on to become a worthy psychologist in her own right, is cast by the wayside here. We find out nothing much about her and despite a valiant portrayal from Ms. Knightley, Spielrein suffers the fate that too many women seem to in these historical dramas – she becomes window dressing and no more than a sexual object from which the “real” heroes desires and triumphs are allowed to be addressed.
A wonderfully crisp, clean, and vibrant transfer, A Dangerous Method arrives on Blu-ray in its original 1.85:1 framing encoded in AVC/MPEG-4 1080p/24. There’s nothing much to complain about here outside of an ever-so-slight softness in the very distant background that is apparent from time to time. The thin layer of grain from the Super 35mm source looks pleasingly organic, flesh tones are natural, darks are nicely graded and contrast looks to be strong as well.
While this is provided with a lossless 5.1 soundtrack in the DTS-HD Master Audio (48kHz/24-bit) codec, the surround channels are fairly quiet most of the time and low frequencies are practically nonexistent. Dialogue, anchored to the center channel, is full and clean providing for a good experience in this dialogue-heavy film. Add in the very occasional atmospherics that pop up in the surround channels and it is a more than good enough effort for the material at hand.
The few supplements on here are dominated by the filmmaker himself, David Cronenberg, with an audio commentary plus an included Q&A session from the AFI Conservatory recorded in 2011. This is a good thing, because, although the extras are slight, the content is strong and worth going through.
- Commentary with director David Cronenberg
- The Making of A Dangerous Method (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 00:07:41)
- AFI’s Harold Llyoyd Master Seminar with David Cronenberg (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 00:31:22) – Filmed at the AFI Conservatory October 19, 2011
- Theatrical Trailer (1.85:1; 1080p/24)
The Definitive World
Despite its flawed portrayal of Sabina Spielrein, A Dangerous Method still offers an interesting look at the rocky beginnings of psychoanalysis and the birth of a theoretical rift in psychological theory that continues to this day. The film is beautifully filmed and marvelously acted while this Blu-ray looks gorgeous.