Film reviews and more since 2009

Freud’s Last Session (2023) review

Dir. Matthew Brown

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★

Movies revolving around two legendary figures meeting often inspire intrigue, but many are ultimately undone by their lack of dramatic inertia and narrative impotency (look at me already employing Freudian ideas in this review). Elvis & Nixon tried to dramatize a closed-door meeting that took place between The King and the then-President of the United States, but offered little else besides notable performances from Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey.

Southside with You, which followed the dramatic meet-cute of two Chicagoans named Barack and Michelle, was lightly entertaining, yet rendered airy in its lack of subtext. One modern example of dropping multiple titans into a singular film is One Night in Miami…, which was elevated by dynamic settings and knockout performances from actors that didn’t end up fighting for screentime.

Now, we have Freud’s Last Session, the film adaptation of a stage-play by Mark St. Germain (based on Armand Nicholi’s book A Question of God). Its concept is a potentially delightful one: imagining what an aging, ailing Sigmund Freud and a young Oxford student, who would later be known as C. S. Lewis, might’ve discussed if they did indeed meet at one point in time. This is material ripe for an intellectual two-hander, but writer/director Matthew Brown bogs much of the film down with flashbacks and subplots that disrupt the coherency of the project almost immediately as scenes between the two men become emotionally stirring.

The conversation between the two lads occurs mere days after Hitler ignites World War II and sends the greater population of Europe in a panic. Lewis, who is referred to as “Jack” (played by Matthew Goode) arrives at Freud’s (Anthony Hopkins) office as the elder psychoanalyst is battling an advanced case of mouth cancer. Under the influence of morphine and with the fledgling thought to commit suicide, Freud entertains his contemporary by expounding upon religion and his atheism, a direct challenge to the religious beliefs held by Lewis.

Sign me up for a 100-minute movie of nothing but these two men engaging in a conversational racket-ball of intellectual musings, arguments, and heated discourse. Instead, Brown floods the narrative with flashbacks of Freud and Lewis’ formative years, as well as Freud’s pathologically dependent daughter, Anna (Liv Lisa Fries), who works as a professor but often has her lectures interrupted by him. These diversions come at the most inopportune time, just as we are getting comfortable with listening to these two men expound their diametrically opposed beliefs. However, outside of Hopkins, at age 86, giving another immersive performance, and Goode holding his own alongside the veteran, there’s not much here for the average audience member with which to meaningfully engage.

One of the film’s more memorable scenes comes when Freud and Lewis must seek refuge at a local church when sirens start to blare. In the church, Freud takes note of the stained-glass windows, admiring their beauty in a time of uncertainty. It’s a reflection of his own contradictions, as his study is packed with religious artifacts, something Lewis can’t reason with knowing the man is a proud atheist. Rather unrealistically, Brown never gives one of these men the upper-hand over the other when things turn verbally combative. The movie doesn’t have a position of its own, and while its even-handedness might be somewhat revelatory in this fiercely divided social climate, it also reveals Freud’s Last Session as a movie that just seems happy that these two legends are sharing the same air with one another.

Unlike Freud’s concepts and teachings, which are intellectually stimulating to debate, Freud’s Last Session is best left in theory, as it proves to be a lengthy endurance test above everything else.

NOTE: Freud’s Last Session is now playing exclusively in theaters.

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Matthew Goode, Liv Lisa Fries, Jodi Balfour, Jeremy Northam, and Orla Brady. Directed by: Matthew Brown.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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