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Freud’s Last Session (A Movie Review)


Starring Anthony Hopkins, Matthew Goode, Liv Lisa Fries, Jodi Balfour, Jeremy Northam, Orla Brady, David Shields, Stephen Campbell Moore, Rhys Mannion, Pádraic Delaney, Tarek Bishara, Arndt Schwering-Sohnrey, Emmet Kirwan, Gary Buckley, Nina Kolomiitseva, George Andrew-Clarke, Anna Amalie Blomeyer, Annette O'Shea, George Lenz and Peter Warnock.

Screenplay by  Mark St. Germain and Matthew Brown.

Directed by Matthew Brown.

Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. 122 minutes. Rated PG-13.

There is a strong whiff of the theater in Freud’s Last Session, to the point that even if you didn’t realize it was based upon a play (a 2009 production of the same name by playwright Mark St. Germain), you would not be at all surprised to find out that simple fact. Freud’s Last Session feels like a filmed theatrical production, full stop.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Let’s face it, someone going into a film called Freud’s Last Session probably has some idea what will be coming. Smart, pithy, philosophically astute dialogue expounded inside wood-grained, book-strewn studies of gorgeous old-fashioned manors. Questions of morality, religion, relationships, political differences, sexuality, war, peace, love and hate being chewed upon by slightly verbose but oh-so-insightful and brilliant academics.

Freud’s Last Session is based on a huge “what if?” Apparently, months before his death, the famous pioneering psychologist Sigmund Freud (Anthony Hopkins) spent the afternoon in World War II era London speaking with a young Oxford professor. By coincidence, at the time young theologian and budding author C.S. Lewis (who went on to write the Narnia books and Mere Christianity) was teaching at Oxford. (Another later-to-be-famous author, JRR Tolkien of The Lord of the Rings fame, was also at Oxford at the time, and appears in a few scenes of Freud’s Last Session, referred to simply as John Tolkien.)

Was Lewis the professor that Freud met with? That information is lost to history, but most probably he was not. However, the idea has intrigued academics for decades, becoming a slightly whimsical jumping off point for Harvard professor and author Armand M. Nicholi in his book The Question of God.

That idea inspired St. Germain to create the play, imagining what if these two intellectual powerhouses – with very different viewpoints on most things – spent the day together discussing and debating theology, relationships and trauma before eventually exposing some of their own life issues, sufferings and tragedies.

And that is basically it. Two extremely smart but polarly opposed men sit together and talk.

One slight problem with the film is that Freud is a much more intriguing debater and wit than Lewis, who tends to be more quietly reactive than combative.

As you may imagine, sitting around listening to two men parry over philosophy can get slow at times, but Freud’s Last Session is generally more entertaining and enlightening than you have a right to expect. And Hopkins’ performance of the old psychologist is spot on.

If you are getting tired of the over-amped blockbusters playing during the holiday season, Freud’s Last Session may be an intriguing alternative.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: December 22, 2023.

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