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Release Date: 01/12/24 [Cinemas]
Genre: Drama.

Studio: Sony Pictures Classics. 

"The movie's story sees Freud invite iconic author C.S. Lewis to debate the existence of God. And his unique relationship with his daughter, and Lewis' unconventional relationship with his best friend's mother." 


Almost everything in Freud’s Last Session works, from the fine acting performances to the downright gorgeous cinematography, but somehow the sum of those parts just doesn’t add up. 


The film is based on a stage play of the same name by Mark St. Germain, which is based on the novel The Question of God by Armand Nicholi. St. Germain adapted the screenplay and Matthew Brown (The Man Who Knew Infinity) directs. 


The story follows an imagined meeting by neurologist Sigmund Freud (Anthony Hopkins) and author C.S. Lewis (Matthew Goode) in 1939 in London. Freud is at the end of his life, suffering from cancer and growingly becoming dependent on morphine to ease the pain. Lewis, at the time, was a college professor and an author of only minor notoriety. His groundbreaking work, The Chronicles of Narnia, was published nearly two decades later. 


Freud, one of the most famous minds of the 20th century, was removed from his native Austria at the time and, in the film, is obsessively listening to BBC radio reports of the impending war. Outside, in the streets of London, soldiers are marching, scores of people are evacuating, and the skies are ominously filled with instruments of war, from passing cargo planes to enormous zeppelins hauling explosives. Adolph Hitler’s eerie voice on the radio is among the first spoken words in the film. 


Lewis has paid a visit to Freud and the two men launch into a discussion that veers in and out of subjects from literature to their own backgrounds, but the overarching theme here is that Freud was a notorious atheist and Lewis was a devout Christian, whose beliefs would become a hallmark of his later works. 


During their discussions, the movie segues in an out of several dream-like sequences. Freud’s are played like hallucinations brought on by the morphine, while Lewis’ are recollections from his recent past, most notably his military service during World War I. 


In one scene, Freud and Lewis temporarily evacuate to a nearby church as sirens warn of a possible impending bombing by the Germans. Lewis is triggered and depends on Freud to help fight off a panic attack. In the end, it’s a false alarm, but a wonderful example of “show, don’t tell” character development. 


The cinematography by Ben Smithard (Downton Abbey, The Man Who Invented Christmas) is lovely throughout, from small shots of an aquarium teaming with life, to the ominous skies of London, to the framing of Freud and Lewis chatting in a study over a glass of whiskey. The film is downright sumptuous to look at, and Coby Brown’s score only helps to amplify and enhance those scenes. 


Hopkins, and especially Goode, are outstanding in the lead roles. Both embody their characters with weight and conviction, and they juggle plenty of heady dialog convincingly. Despite those strong performances, along with a fine supporting turn by Liv Lisa Fries as Anna Freud, the film just seems to drag along. 


Without knowing the source material, it’s hard to gauge whether Freud’s Last Session strays much from the stage play or the original novel, but as a film it sort of meanders. There are lots of thoughtful, rich ideas here, and so many things seem to be working. But what’s ultimately missing is something that can carry the viewer from beginning to end and make them feel like they’ve learned or experienced anything more than two very brilliant men talking for two hours. 


There is something to be said for an intelligent work of fiction performed competently and carried out well by everyone in front of and behind the camera, but something about the story itself just lacks punch or payoff, and that’s likely to leave many viewers feeling cold – and like they’ve wasted two hours when they could have just read a good book. 

Freud’s Last Session may be worth watching for the strong interplay of the central characters, and the nuanced and often gorgeous visual and auditory efforts of the filmmakers. But what is this movie ultimately saying? Well, as Freud himself might say, that is open to interpretation.


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