Freud’s Last Session


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Freud's Last Session
"Despite the capable acting (Hopkins may overdo it but is still terrific at times), the whole thing feels rather dull and pointless."

Does God exist? It’s a question which has obsessed philosophers for centuries, despite having little apparent relevance to anyone genuinely committed to living a moral life. Sigmund Freud, famously, was an atheist, believing Judeo-Christian notions of God to be rooted in the desire for a protective father figure. Matt Brown’s play, which he has adapted here for the screen, imagines a meeting between Freud and the author CS Lewis, a devout believer who, whilst clearly accepting that the older man has a lot to teach him, hopes to win him over to a theistic point of view.

A dramatic backdrop is provided: it is the second day of World War Two, and Freud (played by Anthony Hopkins) patently needs to leave Vienna, but is reluctant to do so in part because of his failing health (he would die not much later, choosing suicide to escape the pain of his oral cancer). He’s tended by his daughter Anna (Liv Lisa Fries), who sees herself as understandably devoted in light of his need, whereas he sees her as pathologically dependent. She’s nervous about letting him know that she’s a lesbian (Jodi Balfour plays her partner, Dorothy Burlingham), although it’s hard to seriously countenance the notion that this hasn’t been obvious to him for years. Brown slightly misrepresents his views on this and other matters for the sake of dramatic tension, which has the effect of making the film feel less valuable as a piece of historical musing, without being able to save it from turgidity.

Hopkins is at his best when playing underdogs. Given a character who showcased as well as analysed ego, his natural tendency to chew the scenery comes to the surface here – not that there is much scenery available, with most of the action taking place in his rather dingy apartment. Matthew Goode works well as Lewis, who, less confident but intellectually curious and persistent, may challenge some people’s expectations of a religious man. His emotional vulnerability provides more opportunity for meaningful character exploration and contrasts effectively with Freud’s firm logic, but unfortunately the dialogue does not do justice to either man’s shrewdness. Despite the capable acting (Hopkins may overdo it but is still terrific at times), the whole thing feels rather dull and pointless. It’s unlikely that any viewer who is personally wrestling with the central question will encounter arguments they could not have come up with by themselves.

In an apparent effort to generate interest which fails to emerge naturally from this dynamic, Brown indulges in a bit of name dropping (JRR Tolkien getting a noteworthy mention), reflection on the horrors of the First World War and digging into Lewis’ private life, none of which adds much illumination or depth to the conversation. The direction is humdrum and the whole thing comes across rather like a second rate BBC drama filling time on a Sunday afternoon. It’s still worth seeing if you’re a fan of the actors, but if there is a God, omniscient or not, He probably has better things to do with His time.

Reviewed on: 08 Jun 2024
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Freud’s Last Session packshot
An imagined meeting between Sigmund Freud and CS Lewis, to discuss the existence or non-existence of God.

Director: Matt Brown

Writer: Mark St Germain, Matt Brown, Armand M Nicholi Jr

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Matthew Goode, Liv Lisa Fries, Jodi Balfour

Year: 2023

Runtime: 108 minutes

Country: Ireland, UK, US


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