AFI Fest Film Review – ‘Freud’s Last Session’ is a Thought-Provoking Dialogue Between Two Intellectual Greats

AFI Fest Film Review – ‘Freud’s Last Session’ is a Thought-Provoking Dialogue Between Two Intellectual Greats
Photography by Patrick Redmond. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

It would be hard to find anyone alive today who hasn’t heard of Sigmund Freud. Having a true awareness of who he really was and the contributions he made to the field of psychoanalysis might not be as widespread, but presuming that he was intuitive and wanted to ask uncomfortable questions to glean eye-opening answers should make sense to most. Freud’s Last Session finds the revolutionary mind in confrontational conversation with someone who doesn’t share his views on most things but has proven to be just as influential on future generations as the great doctor.

In early September 1939, London is under aerial siege in the aftermath of Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland. Freud (Anthony Hopkins) has a meeting scheduled with author C.S. Lewis (Matthew Goode), who has gone from being a prominent atheist to an active and devout Christian. Freud is annoyed that Lewis is late, while Lewis is distressed that Freud leaves no room for the relevance of faith in his much-publicized theories. The two engage in a lengthy back-and-forth that also probes their histories and what has brought them each to that moment.

Freud’s Last Session is based on screenwriter Mark St. Germain’s play of the same name, which imagines the meeting between these two intellectuals since there exists no record of who it was that Freud met shortly before the end of his life. This cinematic adaptation makes great use of what the medium has to offer, presenting detailed flashbacks that chronicle the radically different upbringings both men had and the many ways in which their attitudes towards faith and fate were shaped and transformed throughout the course of their lives.

Freuds Last Session
Photography by Patrick Redmond. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Any chance to see Anthony Hopkins on screen is a welcome one, and the renowned actor, who won his second Oscar just a few years for playing a dementia-stricken man losing his sense of reality in The Father, continues to turn in great work at the age of eighty-five. At first, it’s hard to distinguish Freud from some of Hopkins’ other characters as he seems wearied and especially displeased with his guest. But as the film goes on, Hopkins reveals layers to his interpretation of Freud and a particular passion for sparring with someone who he respects but can’t quite take seriously given the opinions and allegiances he espouses.

Goode, seen recently as ruthless executive Bob Evans in the Paramount+ series The Offer, comes in just as strong in a different way, desperately pleading with Freud for answers to the questions he believes are vital. He shows a softer side of Lewis in his recollections of serving in the war, which offer a major trigger when Lewis and Freud must head for shelter following the sound of a siren, and his unconventional relationship with the mother of his deceased friend from the army. The two actors play well off of each other to make what often amounts to just a two-person conversation decently invigorating.

Seen mostly in scenes where the Freud family remains in Vienna and as she struggles to separate herself from her unhealthy connection to her father, Freud’s daughter Anna is among the film’s most compelling assets, especially as portrayed by Liv Lisa Fries. She channels the complex nature of her relationship with someone whose life work is about recognizing problematic or influential dynamics into a compelling performance, and that focus enhances a film that sometimes feels sluggish in its pursuit of an academic breakthrough. Like much of Freud’s legacy, this film presents food for thought that isn’t always as fascinating or easy to digest as its idea’s originators anticipate.

Grade: B

Check out more of Abe Friedtanzer’s articles.

Freud’s Last Sesssion makes its world premiere in the Special Screenings section at AFI Fest 2023 and will be released theatrically by Sony Pictures Classics on December 22nd.

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