Life & Culture

Freud’s Last Session review: This is a movie with play envy


Giant: Anthony Hopkins as Freud

Freud’s Last Session


Reviewed  by John Nathan 

In his last two films Sir Anthony Hopkins has consecutively played Jews who were deeply affected by the Second World War, as all Jews were. In One Life the veteran star played the English saviour of Jewish children Nicholas Winton who is more often thought of as being typically English but who, in a scene revealing his antecedents, is declared to be Jewish by the Czech rabbi seeking to establish Winton’s motives.

And now here is Sir Anthony again playing the monumental Jewish figure of Sigmund Freud in a play that imagines his meeting with the passionately Christian CS Lewis (Mathew Goode) who Freud has summoned to his home just as war is declared with Germany.

Flashbacks chart the two protagonist’s path to this meeting which may or may not have happened. All that is known for certain is that Freud met an Oxford don in 1939. In Lewis’s recent past, we see him with friend and fellow scholar Tolkien being effectively converted into the belief that Christian scripture is more than just myth. In his present, we see that he suppresses the PTSD he suffers from after his  experience as a soldier in the previous war.

Freud’s past scenes meanwhile include the terrifying moment his daughter Anna (an intellectually and emotionally intense Liv Lisa Fries) was arrested by Nazis in Vienna. She was released but the event convinced Freud of the nature of the Nazi “beast” and to move to London. The purpose of the meeting called by Freud is to test Lewis’s Christian belief against Freud’s view that God is a man-made delusion.

Co-writer and director Matt Brown does his best to turn this moment into cinema. But set mainly in Freud’s home the film really wants to be a play. Indeed there is much here that brings to mind Terry Johnson’s excellent stage work Hysteria which looks at the known meeting around this time between Freud and, of all people, surrealist artist Salvador Dali.

In that work, Johnson turned what might have been a long-winded intellectual wallow into something irreverent. Brown’s film however, absorbing though it is, is much more concerned in reinforcing our impressions of these giants. It makes for an interesting encounter rather than a gripping one.

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