Can you imagine what would’ve happened if Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, and C.S. Lewis, author and lay theologian, met for one legendary debate? Freud’s Last Session answers this very question. The period drama, based on Mark St. Germain’s stage play of the same name (which itself is derived from Armand Nicholi’s book The Question of God), finds Anthony Hopkins (Freud) and Matthew Goode (Lewis) becoming sparring partners on the eve of World War II. 

C.S. Lewis sits in an office that's suffused with natural light in the movie Freud's Last Session.

FREUD’S LAST SESSION. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

About Freud’s Last Session 

Here’s a synopsis for the film per Sony Pictures Classics: 

“London, September 3rd, 1939.  The world is on the brink of war. 

In his final days, Sigmund Freud, a recent escapee with his daughter from the Nazi regime, receives a visit from the formidable Oxford Don C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia). On this day, two of the greatest minds of the twentieth century intimately engage in a monumental session over the belief in the future of mankind and the existence of God.”

Besides Hopkins and Goode, Freud’s Last Session stars Liv Lisa Fries as Anna Freud and Jodi Balfour as Dorothy Burlingham. Matt Brown directs from his script. 

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All the World’s a Stage 

The biggest positive in this film’s corner is its tremendous performances and nuanced character work. If anything, this feels like a vehicle for Anthony Hopkins to showcase his immense talents. There is no one like him. Hopkins portrays Freud with incisive wit, raw humanity and vitality despite the famed psychoanalyst’s grim prognosis. That’s a tricky line to walk, to give an invigorated performance while exhibiting the slow decay of a man dying from oral cancer. 

Matthew Goode makes for the perfect sparring partner for Hopkins. His commendable performance deftly highlights the gut-wrenching effects of PTSD as Lewis often relives his time on the front lines of World War I. 

C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud argue in the latter's office during the evening in the movie Freud's Last Session.

FREUD’S LAST SESSION. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

The most intriguing aspect of Freud’s Last Session is how the grand debate plays out. Both men engage in a respectful, healthy, robust conversation on opposing sides. They don’t try to change each other; instead, they endeavor to understand and challenge each other. It’s a far cry from the venomous “debates” we see online today, where hurled insults and vitriol are the norm. Everyone is so eager to cut to the quick instead of exercising empathy. Thankfully, Freud’s Last Session doesn’t go that route — it’s relatively subdued. At the end of the day, this film is about tolerance. 

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The Questions 

Freud and Lewis’ lengthy discussion tackles everything from the existence of God and sexuality to their respective origin stories and how science and religion intersect more than the public believes. The script and direction don’t infantilize the audience. It offers intellectually enriching, critical discourse and food for thought once the credits roll. 

Perhaps the lack of a heated argument works against this film as much as it supports it. One walks into Freud’s Last Session expecting to watch an impassioned display of two men fighting to change the other’s mind, with one rising victorious. That said, writing for two intellectual legends — titans of their respective professions — is not easy. It’s not hyperbole to say Sigmund Freud changed the psychiatric/neurological landscape with his groundbreaking discovery of psychoanalysis. Conversely, Lewis’ literary works are still read today. Who didn’t read The Chronicles of Narnia as a kid (and see the Christian parallels)? 

On another note, the film occasionally veers into fantasy territory as both men grapple with these big questions. For Freud, he’s on death’s door, so these breaks from reality allow him to examine his life and achievements. For Lewis, it seems the fantasy elements plant the seeds for him to write The Chronicles of Narnia as he intermittently explores a forest throughout the movie. Brown and co. incorporate these elements well; however, I feel the film could’ve stood to lean harder into them. The production values are gorgeous. 

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What Works/Doesn’t Work 

Coby Brown’s score is understated yet potent, successfully used in specific scenes to heighten the stakes. The film utilizes world events coupled with Freud’s condition to propel the debate. Some of the flick’s tensest moments come from the war-related scenes, from Lewis fighting in WWI to Freud and Lewis fleeing to a bomb shelter when the siren blares. Flashback sequences also shed more light on Freud’s and Lewis’s perspectives. These are well-incorporated and effective. 

Sigmund Freud wears glasses while sitting behind his desk and looking serious in the movie Freud's Last Session.

FREUD’S LAST SESSION. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

What doesn’t work is the extra focus on Anna’s story. While Liv Lisa Fries delivers a compelling performance, the switch to Anna sometimes detracts from the story (except for the flashbacks that include Freud), especially since we’re only covering one night in these characters’ lives. 

All in all, Freud’s Last Session isn’t devoid of flaws, and a lack of heart makes it feel somewhat mechanical. However, watch it for the titans that are Anthony Hopkins and Matthew Goode. They boast a natural, easygoing chemistry and back-and-forth that’s fun to watch. Hopkins, in particular, delivers magnificent work. It’s a cerebral drama that asks big questions that are relevant today. Chronically online folks should watch it as an example of how to debate without resorting to dehumanizing remarks. 

Freud’s Last Session is currently in theaters in Los Angeles and New York, with a nationwide release slated for sometime in 2024. 

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Melody McCune
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