A Fine Line Between Love & Madness: Obsession

A Fine Line Between Love & Madness: Obsession

Static Mass Rating: 4/5
Arrow Video 

Release date: July 11th 2011
Certificate (UK): 12
Runtime: 94 minutes

Year of production: 1976

Director: Brian de Palma
Writer: Paul Schrader
Producers: Harry N Blum, George Litto

Cast: Cliff Robertson, Genevieve Bujold, John Lithgow, Sylvia Kuumba Williams, Wanda Blackman, Andrea Esterhazy, Stocker Fontelieu, Don Hood, Nick Kreiger, J. Patrick McNamara, Stanley J. Reyes

An obsession is usually defined as an idea or thought that continually preoccupies a person’s mind. I admit, over the years I’ve had a few but I’d describe them more as passions that inspire me. We all have them and usually there’s nothing wrong with them.

For some people though, an obsession does more than just occupy their mind. It dominates their lives and blinds them to everything else. They become a risk to themselves and others in the pursuit to perfect the idea they’ve become obsessed with. And this is where Brian de Palma’s classic 1970’s thriller takes us.


We first meet Michael Courtland (Cliff Robertson), a New Orleans real estate developer, in 1959. He’s a man who has everything; a successful business, a lavish home, a beautiful wife and 9-year old daughter whom he dotes on.

Things have a way of changing though, whether we want them to or not. When his wife and daughter are kidnapped, the police suggest that Michael delivers them shredded paper instead of the $500,000 ransom they demand. When the kidnappers panic, they make a dash for it with their hostages in tow, but a car chase leads to an accident and Michael loses his family in a fiery explosion and a watery grave.


The story then moves ahead to 1976 but Michael hasn’t moved on and the tragedy still haunts him, so much so that when he meets Sandra (Geneviève Bujold) he’s more than a little curious about the woman who could be the doppelganger for his dead wife. He has become obsessed and tries to mould Sandra into his void left by his wife. An uneasy romance develops between them and Michael thinks he’s gotten a second chance, but then things decide to change again.

The unthinkable happens. Sandra is kidnapped and a ransom note is left, again for the sum of $500,000. It’s an all too familiar setting for Michael, as the pieces in the puzzle start to come together, revealing the horrifying truth of what really happened back in 1959.


Obsession is clearly a masterpiece in filmmaking and storytelling but it’s also a love letter to the films of Alfred Hitchcock, so much so that it seems obsessed with the father of horror and suspense.

There are nods throughout to Vertigo (1958), Dial M For Murder (1954) and even Notorious (1946), but it’s filmed in such a sumptuous manner that you forget these homage’s and linger in the dreamlike atmosphere de Palma creates here. Tension builds as the melodrama in Michael and Sandra’s relationship gives way to something more disturbing than what appears at first.

At times we’re not sure who’s obsessed with who but it’s safe to say it’s a story that travels full circle as it reaches a horrifying conclusion.

Arrow’s high definition transfer of the film removes a lot of the aging it has suffered over the years and though the colours look very saturated I wasn’t that impressed with its sharpness and clarity. As extras, the disc comes with a feautette called Obsession Revisited where Brian de Palma, Cliff Robertson and Genevieve Bujold talk about the making of the film and some of the material that was toned done before the release. Sadly there are no deleted or extended scenes.


  • Obsession Revisited (37.30)
  • Woton’s Wake (27.59)
  • The Responsive Eye (26.42)
  • Trailer (1.35)

There are two of de Palma’s early short films, Woton’s Wake (1962) and The Responsive Eye (1966) which are very interesting both if you’re into short films and de Palma. It’s become standard for Arrow to boost their releases with an assortment of sleeve art and fold out posters and you’ll find that here as well, but there’s also the added bonus of a copy of Paul Schrader’s original script which details un-filmed sequences Michael Courtland’s past, present and future.

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