review

Freud’s Last Session: Dull talky drama will bring on naptime

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Freud's Last Session is in cinemas now.
Freud's Last Session is in cinemas now. Credit: Sharmill

Let’s start at the end. The closing credits of Freud’s Last Session claim that in the lead-up to his death, Sigmund Freud was visited in his home in England by a young Oxford don whose identity remains lost to time.

The contention of the film, based on a stage production by Mark St. Germaine, is what if this mystery man was C.S. Lewis, who in 1939 was indeed an academic at the venerable Ivy institution.

What would those conversations between Freud and Lewis, two verbose men with fundamentally different views on god, religion and sex, look like? There’s a lot of dramatic tension to be wrung from this imagined battle of brilliant minds, but you won’t find it in this lacklustre and tiresome film by Matthew Brown.

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In the week following Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland, tension is in the air in England, particularly in London where the threat of bombers leads to air raid sirens, evacuations into the tube tunnels and false alarms.

Anthony Hopkins as Sigmund Freud.
Anthony Hopkins as Freud. Credit: Leanne Sullivan/Leanne Sullivan

The Jewish Freud (Anthony Hopkins) and his daughter Anna (Liv Lisa Fries) fled Hitler-controlled Austria only the year before and the ever-present menace of the war hangs over the film, in parallel with the psychoanalyst’s advanced oral cancer.

Lewis (Matthew Goode) enters Freud’s Hampstead home after he is summoned by Freud, ostensibly to talk about Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Recess. Over the course of the film, the two get into it on their points of disagreement, most notably about god, which Lewis re-embraced and which Freud really does not. A climactic moment hangs on Freud’s grief over the loss of his daughter Sophie at a young age – how can that be in god’s plan, he demands.

The dynamic between the men is that Freud is the provocateur, poking at Lewis’s faith, but the soon-to-be writer of the Narnia tales does not meet him where he is. There is a timidity to his responses, not out of intellectual or rhetorical lack, that’s just how the character is written.

Freud's Last Session is in cinemas now.
Matthew Goode as C.S. Lewis. Credit: Sharmill

It’s among the film’s many flaws.

The two characters are not evenly matched and it doesn’t have the back-and-forth energy of a true two-hander, such as Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce did in Fernando Mireilles’ The Two Popes, another dialogue-heavy film that expounded on religion and philosophy.

Freud’s Last Session also makes the mistake of injecting flashbacks to the men’s younger, formative experiences but it only serves to break the tension and momentum.

The film lacks stakes and doesn’t lead anywhere — you know neither Freud nor Lewis will shift their positions so it should have at least given us a robust debate in the meantime. It does not. It manages to make loaded, interesting subjects such as sex an inducement to a nap.

If there is an emotional element to it, it’s in Freud’s co-dependent relationship with Anna, but even that is fleeting. It’s just another element in a movie that does little to inspire any interest or investment.

Rating: 2/5

Freud’s Last Session is in cinemas now

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