Review – Freud’s Last Session

GUG_FLS_2

Overview

Synopsis A dying Sigmund Freud calls upon a young Oxford Don and apologist to answer for himself and his Christian worldview.

Length 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Release Date 22 December 2023 (Limited Release)

 

Rating PG-13

Distribution Sony Picture Classics

Directing Matthew Brown

Writing Mark St. Germain, Matthew Brown

Composition Coby Brown

Starring Anthony Hopkins, Matthew Goode

Sometimes a movie comes out and I can only assume it was made for me specifically. This might sound like a strange presupposition, but sometimes it’s the best conclusion when a movie fits so perfectly to your tastes. As an amateur expert on CS Lewis adaptations — both on stage and in print — I cannot help but get excited with a low-budget CS Lewis film sneaking into theaters. Considering it’s only received a limited release and grossed less than $100,000 at the time of writing, I can only be thankful that this film has landed in my lap.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: One character is going through cancer treatment and several scenes depict him in dreary medical settings, and with bloody wounds
Language/Crude Humor: Some severe language throughout
Drug/Alcohol References: Characters frequently drink alcohol and smoke, one character is taking morphine as a painkiller
Sexual Content: Sex is a frequent theme in the film, with CS Lewis’s sexual affair and Freud’s relationship with his lesbian daughter being major themes, although no nudity is depicted
Spiritual Content: The film explicitly explores atheism, Christianity, and the nature and morality of God
Other Negative Content: None
Positive Content: Themes of dialog, truth, and intellectual honesty

Review

C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud almost certainly never met during their lives. Lewis had many great opportunities to correspond with great minds of his day, but there is no evidence the great psychologist was one of them, as Lewis had only entered the English psyche a few years before Freud took his own life in 1939. There is plenty of evidence Lewis was deeply familiar with Freud, however. Lewis argues against Freud repeatedly in his body of work, as Freudian psychoanalysis was extremely popular in Oxford during the peak of his career.

Freud was one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century, a pioneer in human psychology, and a prominent atheist. His views have influenced generations of academics and scientists and challenged Christians with accusations that their beliefs are childish fairytales and delusions created to falsely fulfill man’s deepest desires for meaning. As he writes, “Religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from the fact that it falls in with our instinctual desires.”

Freud’s Last Session thus sets out with a series of fascinating philosophical and theological questions, crafting a fictional scenario to grapple with how a young Lewis and a dying Freud could have met each other and debated the most difficult questions. This new film adaptation is based on the Mark St. Germain stageplay of the same name, which won many awards for its off-Broadway performances in 2010. The play is adapted from Dr. Armand Nicoli’s book The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life.

The story is set in September 1939, with Britain having just declared war against Germany after the invasion of Poland. In his final weeks of life, Freud called upon the young Oxford don to appear before him to discuss the ideas of his recent book The Pilgrim’s Regress, which paints Freud as an arrogant and ignorant materialist. Over several meetings and days, the two geniuses discuss their lives and worldviews as they grapple with the most difficult questions of life — the existence of God, the nature of suffering, the morality of sex and sexuality, the inevitability of death, and the ethics of suicide. 

It is hard to call Freud’s Last Session a great work of film, as it isn’t. Its blocking is stagey, its cinematography flat, its setting limited to a few small sets, and its performances are mostly serviceable or unremarkable. It is a low-budget movie and reflects the limited setting the script avails, only flashing its budget with brief flashbacks and transitions that set the film against World War II, creating a world where soldiers in the background are preparing for air raids and waiting for the inevitable violence to come.  

However, the movie is quite charming at points. It helps that Anthony Hopkins is on hand as Sigmund Freud, lending his gravitas to a particularly vital role in the film. It also marks a curious full-circle moment for his career, as the film marks the 30th anniversary of his performance as CS Lewis in Shadowlands, only presented here as Lewis’s intellectual rival. 

Most of the film is focused on the central debate between Lewis and Freud, with much of the screen time just dedicated to their intellectual sparring and mutual rivalries, as both men represent something the other is trying to overcome. In his final weeks of life, Freud seems eager to put to bed some of his anxieties about life and death and sees the apologist as a deluded pin to knock over. Freud repeatedly probes Lewis for psychological motivations for his beliefs, hoping to flatten his thought processes and reveal that he is a fraud. 

But the movie makes it clear both men have complicated inner lives. Lewis is depicted as a man who has struggled to overcome a life of sexual sin and war trauma. Freud is similarly shown to be a moral hypocrite who thinks he can explain away all of his mistakes, despite hurting his lesbian daughter and colleagues deeply in the process. The movie does well to draw heavily on many of the core ideas of their mutual philosophies; with much of Lewis’s dialog coming straight out of books like Surprised by Joy and The Problem of Pain. By the end, neither side has fully relented, but there is a mutual respect that has grown between them as they have sparred and connected. 

Freud’s Last Session is no masterpiece and much of what it has to say will likely be repetitive to the seasoned Lewis scholar. Nevertheless, having seen it twice, I can’t help but be a bit enamored by it. It’s a quiet and sad work that enjoys placing two great minds in opposition to one another and asking how they could’ve seriously affected one another. It is quiet and fascinating, while also being awkward and blunt. However, I cannot deny I’m smitten by it and encourage audiences to seek it out while they have the opportunity.

Positives

+ Great Anthony Hopkins Performance
+ Fascinating Stage Play
+ Complicated Themes

Negatives

- Cheap Production Design
- Some Serviceable Supporting Performances

The Bottom Line

Freud's Last Session is no masterpiece, as a clunky low-budget drama, but thrives with Hopkin's engrossing performance and some crackling intelligent dialog.

 

7.5

Posted in , ,

Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

1 Comments

  1. K R. Mills on April 22, 2024 at 2:48 pm

    I absolutely adored Freud’s Last Session. The back & forth between Freud & Lewis (Hopkins & Goode) was mesmerizing. I plan to view this piece again & again.

    An extremely thoughtful note is the inclusion of “And the Waltz Goes On” nearing the end of the movie. Bravo, once again, Sir Anthony! Love it!

Leave a Comment