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A Dangerous Method

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Title: A Dangerous Method  
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Subject: David Cronenberg, Sarah Gadon, Michael Fassbender, HanWay Films, Recorded Picture Company
Collection: 2010S Drama Films, 2011 Films, British Drama Films, British Films, Canadian Drama Films, Canadian Films, Carl Jung in Fiction, English-Language Films, Film Scores by Howard Shore, Films Based on Plays, Films Directed by David Cronenberg, Films Produced by Jeremy Thomas, Films Set in 1904, Films Set in 1906, Films Set in 1909, Films Set in 1910, Films Set in 1912, Films Set in 1913, Films Set in New York City, Films Set in Switzerland, Films Set in Vienna, Films Shot in Germany, Films Shot in Vienna, German Drama Films, German Films, Sigmund Freud in Fiction, Sony Pictures Classics Films, Universal Pictures Films
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A Dangerous Method

A Dangerous Method
Theatrical release poster
Directed by David Cronenberg
Produced by Jeremy Thomas
Tiana Alexandra
Screenplay by Christopher Hampton
Based on The Talking Cure 
by Christopher Hampton (play)
A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr (non-fiction)
Starring Keira Knightley
Viggo Mortensen
Michael Fassbender
Vincent Cassel
Music by Howard Shore
Cinematography Peter Suschitzky
Edited by Ronald Sanders
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics
Release dates
  • 2 September 2011 (2011-09-02) (68th Venice International
    Film Festival)
  • 10 February 2012 (2012-02-10) (United Kingdom)
Running time 99 minutes
Country Germany
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $18 million[1]
Box office $27,462,041[2]

A Dangerous Method is a 2011 historical film directed by David Cronenberg and starring Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, and Vincent Cassel. The screenplay was adapted by writer Christopher Hampton from his 2002 stage play The Talking Cure, which was based on the 1993 non-fiction book by John Kerr, A Most Dangerous Method: The story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein.

The film marks the third consecutive collaboration between Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen (after A History of Violence and Eastern Promises). This is also the third Cronenberg film made with British film producer Jeremy Thomas, after completing together the William Burroughs adaptation Naked Lunch and the J.G. Ballard adaptation Crash. A Dangerous Method was a German/Canadian co-production. The film premiered at the 68th Venice Film Festival and was also featured at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.[3][4]

Set on the eve of World War I, A Dangerous Method describes the turbulent relationships between Carl Jung, founder of analytical psychology; Sigmund Freud, founder of the discipline of psychoanalysis; and Sabina Spielrein, initially a patient of Jung and later a physician and one of the first female psychoanalysts.[5]


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
  • Release 4
  • Reception 5
  • Accolades 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Sabina Spielrein arrives at the Burghölzli, the pre-eminent psychiatric hospital in Zurich, with a typical case of hysteria and begins a new course of treatment with the young Swiss doctor, Carl Jung. He is using word association and dream interpretation as part of his approach to Freud's radical new science of psychoanalysis, and finds that Sabina Spielrein's condition was triggered by the humiliation and sexual arousal she felt as a child due to her short-tempered father's habit of spanking her naked. These conflicting feelings were compounded by her instinctive knowledge (imparted by an angel's voice that speaks in German) that she had done nothing to deserve such a punishment and in fact that she may have been a stand-in for her mother in her father's abuse (since her mother was unfaithful). Also, her affluent Russian Jewish family afforded her an exceptional education in preparation for university study, although not on the subject of sex, and she was a virgin.

Her intelligence and energy were immediately recognized and encouraged by Jung and Eugen Bleuler, the head of the hospital, and since she plans to study medicine they allow her to assist them in their experiments, including measuring the physical reactions of subjects during word association, to provide empirical data as a scientific basis for psychoanalysis and ameliorate the more sensational aspects of Freud's theories, which contend that all mental illness is rooted in childhood sexual experience, be it real or fantasy. She soon learns that much of this new science is founded on the doctors' observations of themselves, each other, and their families, not just their patients. The doctors correspond at length before they meet, and begin sharing their dreams and analysing each other, and Freud adopts Jung as his heir and agent.

Jung finds in Sabina a kindred spirit with a unique perspective as her self-awareness sharpens, and their attraction deepens in what was already well known at the time as transference. Jung's resistance to the idea of infidelity, and breaking the taboo of sex with a patient, is undercut by the wild and unrepentant confidences of another brilliant, philandering, unstable psychoanalyst who comes under his care, Otto Gross. He decries monogamy in general and suggests that resistance to transference is symptomatic of the repression of normal, healthy sexual impulses, exhorting Jung to indulge himself with abandon.

Jung finally begins their affair, which in the film includes rudimentary bondage and spanking Sabina at times. Things become even more tangled as he becomes her advisor to her dissertation; he publishes not only his studies of her as a patient but eventually her treatise as well. Her original ideas are rooted not only in her insights into her childhood trauma, but the intensity and conflicts in their relationship. Spielrein's thesis suggests that truly heroic, original creations can only emerge from the crucible of great conflict, such as the attraction of opposites and the breaking of taboos, and thus the instinct for creation is inextricably tied to a drive to destruction, and that these feelings and ideas are not restricted to sexual expression despite their roots in the biological drive to reproduce. This includes, finally, his refusal to give her a love child, which is the story behind the reference to Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen operas: they see themselves in the legend of Siegfried, the archetypal Teutonic hero born from a forbidden union. After his attempt to confine their relationship again to doctor and patient, she appeals to Freud for his professional help, and forces Jung to tell Freud the truth about their relationship, reminding him that she could have publicly damaged him but did not want to.

Jung and Freud journey to America. However, cracks appear in their friendship as they begin to disagree more frequently on matters of psychoanalysis. Jung and Spielrein meet to work on her dissertation in Switzerland, and begin their sexual relationship once more. However, after Jung's admitted lack of courage for leaving his wife for her, Spielrein decides to leave for Vienna. She meets Freud, and expresses that although she sides with him, she believes he and Jung need to reconcile for psychoanalysis to continue to develop.

Following Freud's collapse at an academic conference, Jung and Freud continue correspondence via letters, through which they decide to end their relationship, after increasing hostilities and accusations regarding the differences in their conceptualisation of psychoanalysis. Spielrein marries a Russian doctor and, while pregnant, visits Jung and his wife. They discuss psychoanalysis and Jung's new mistress. Jung confides that his love for Spielrein made him a better person.

The film's footnote reveals that Otto Gross starved to death in Berlin in 1919, that Freud died of cancer in London in 1939 after being driven out of Vienna by the Nazis, that Spielrein trained a number of analysts in the new Soviet Union, before she, along with her two daughters, was shot by Nazis in 1941, and that Jung emerged from a nervous breakdown to become the world's leading psychologist before dying peacefully in 1961.



Hampton's earliest version of the screenplay, dating back to the 1990s, was written for Julia Roberts in the role of Sabina Spielrein, but the film was never realized. Hampton re-wrote the screenplay for the stage, before producer Jeremy Thomas acquired the rights for both the earlier script and the stage version.[6]

The film was produced by Britain's Recorded Picture Company, with Germany's Lago Film and Canada's Prospero Film acting as co-producers.[7] Additional funding was provided by Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, MFG Baden-Württemberg, Filmstiftung NRW, the German Federal Film Board and Film Fund, Ontario Media Development Corp and Millbrook Pictures.[8]

Christoph Waltz was initially cast as Sigmund Freud, but was replaced by Viggo Mortensen due to a scheduling conflict.[9] Christian Bale had been in talks to play Carl Jung, but he too had to drop out because of scheduling conflicts.[10]

Filming began on 26 May and ended on 24 July 2010.[8]

A noted feature of the film is the extensive use in the musical score of leitmotifs from Wagner's third Ring opera Siegfried, mostly in piano transcription. In fact the composer Howard Shore has said that the structure of the film is based on the structure of the Siegfried opera.[11]


Universal Pictures released the film in German-speaking territories, while Lionsgate took rights to the United Kingdom[12] and Sony Pictures Classics distributed the film in the United States.[13] The film debuted at the Venice Film Festival in Italy on 2 September 2011.


As of 27 March 2012, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 77% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 168 reviews.[14]

Louise Keller reports from Urban Cinephile, "The best scenes are those between Mortensen and Fassbender...the tension between the two men mounts as their views conflict: Freud insists that sex is an underlying factor in every neurosis while Jung, interested in spiritualism and the occult, is disappointed by what he considers to be Freud's 'rigid pragmatism.'"[15]

Andrew O'Hehir's review on Salon notes that on the one hand Freud's "single-minded focus on sexual repression as the source of neurosis led to the creation of psychiatry as a legitimate medical and scientific field—one that was often resistant to change and dominated by authoritarian father figures." On the other hand, Sabina's effect on Jung, and "the discoveries they had made together, both in the office and the bedroom," including the potential in "a creative fusion of opposites—doctor and patient, man and woman, dark and light, Jew and Aryan," led to a falling out between the two men "over a variety of issues, most notably the scientific limits of psychiatric inquiry."[16]

In contrast, despite its exploration of "the way our subconscious works, the way we repress, and suppress, natural urges—the constant battle between the rational and the instinctive, the civilized and the wild", amid scenes of Jung's passionate affair with Sabina, the film "feels distant, and clinical, in ways you wished it did not," according to Steven Rea of The Philadelphia Inquirer.[17] In an interview with The Daily Beast's Marlow Stern, Cronenberg himself is quoted as saying that those scenes were "quite clinical. These were people who, even when they were having sex, they were observing themselves having sex because they were so interested in their reactions to things."[10]

The film was listed at number 5 on Film Comment magazine's Best Films of 2011 list.[18]


Year of ceremony Award Category Recipient(s) Result
2011 National Board of Review Awards[19] Spotlight Award Michael Fassbender (Also for Shame, Jane Eyre, and X-Men: First Class) Won
Satellite Awards Actor in a Supporting Role Viggo Mortensen Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards Best Actor Michael Fassbender (Also for Shame, Jane Eyre, and X-Men: First Class) Won
2012 Golden Globe Awards[20] Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Viggo Mortensen Nominated
London Critics' Circle Film Awards[21] British Actor of the Year Michael Fassbender (Also for Shame) Won
Central Ohio Film Critics Association Awards[22] Actor of the Year Michael Fassbender (Also for Shame, Jane Eyre, and X-Men: First Class) Nominated
Genie Awards[23] Best Motion Picture Martin Katz, Marco Mehlitz, Jeremy Thomas Nominated
Achievement In Art Direction/Production Design James Mcateer Won
Performance By An Actor In A Leading Role Michael Fassbender Nominated
Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role Viggo Mortensen Won
Achievement In Costume Design Denise Cronenberg Nominated
Achievement In Direction David Cronenberg Nominated
Achievement In Editing Ronald Sanders, C.C.E. A.C.E. Nominated
Achievement In Music – Original Score Howard Shore Won
Achievement In Overall Sound Orest Sushko, Christian Cooke Won
Achievement In Sound Editing Wayne Griffin, Rob Bertola, Tony Currie, Andy Malcolm, Michael O’Farrell Won
Achievement In Visual Effects Jason Edwardh, Oliver Hearsey, Jim Price, Milan Schere, Wojciech Zielinski Nominated
Sant Jordi Award Best Foreign Actor Michael Fassbender (Also for Jane Eyre and X-Men: First Class) Won
Directors Guild of Canada Awards[24] Best Direction David Cronenberg Won
Best Feature Film Won
Best Production Design - Feature Film James McAteer Won
Best Picture Editing - Feature Film Ron Sanders Won
Best Sound Editing Rob Bertola, Tony Currie, Alastair Gray, Michael O'Farrell, Gren-Erich Zwicker Won


  1. ^ "Box office / business for A Dangerous Method". IMDB. Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  2. ^ "A Dangerous Method (2011)".  
  3. ^ "TIFF 2011: U2, Brad Pitt, George Clooney Films Featured At 2011 Toronto International Film Festival". The Huffington Post. 26 July 2011. Retrieved 25 August 2011. 
  4. ^ Evans, Ian (2011), "A Dangerous Method TIFF premiere photos",, retrieved 2012-03-12 
  5. ^ Kerr, John. 1993. A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein, New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1993, p. 11.
  6. ^ Dee Jefferson: Jeremy Thomas: The Lone Ranger, interview with Jeremy Thomas on, 14 August 2012, retrieved 2012-12-23.
  7. ^ Meza, Ed (1 July 2010). Dangerous' turn for Millbrook"'". Variety. Retrieved 16 January 2011. 
  8. ^ a b "A Dangerous Method". Screenbase.  
  9. ^ Adler, Tim (9 March 2010). "Sigmund Freud Gets Cast: Christoph Waltz's Loss Is Viggo Mortensen's Gain".  
  10. ^ a b Stern, Marlow (20 October 2011). "David Cronenberg on 'A Dangerous Method,' Robert Pattinson's Acting, and S&M With Keira Knightley".  
  11. ^
  12. ^ Lodderhose, Diana (16 May 2010). "'"Lionsgate U.K. picks up 'Method,' 'Coriolanus. Variety. Retrieved 16 January 2011. 
  13. ^ "'"Sony Classics Picks Up David Cronenberg's 'A Dangerous Method. The Contenders. 17 June 2011. Archived from the original on 7 July 2011. Retrieved 17 June 2011. 
  14. ^ "A Dangerous Method".  
  15. ^ Keller, Louise (April 5, 2012). "A Dangerous Method". Seaforth NSW Australia: Urban Cinephile. Retrieved 7 April 2012. 
  16. ^ O'Hehir, Andrew (September 9, 2011). "'"Knightley and Fassbender Steam Up 'Dangerous Method.  
  17. ^ Rea, Steven (5 January 2012). A Dangerous Method': A Time-Travel Visit to Jung and Freud"'".  
  18. ^ Film Comment, January/February 2012
  19. ^ "National Board of Review Announces 2011 Awards; HUGO Takes Top Prize". Retrieved 2 December 2011.
  20. ^ "69th Annual Golden Globe Awards – Full List Of Nominees". Retrieved 15 December 2011.
  21. ^ "32nd London Critics' Circle Film Awards nominations announced". The Critics' Circle. Retrieved 31 December 2011.
  22. ^ "Central Ohio Film Critics Nominations". COFCA. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  23. ^ "Genie Awards 2012: the nominations". Genie. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
  24. ^ "David Cronenberg's 'A Dangerous Method,' Jon Cassar's 'The Kennedys' Dominate Directors Guild of Canada Awards". DGOC. Retrieved 21 October 2012.

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