Freud's Last Session (2023)


It’s in the precious hours before England declares war on Germany for the second time, and Sigmund Freud (Anthony Hopkins) is awaiting a visit from a Cambridge Professor named Jack Lewis (Matthew Goode). But Lewis is late, a fact Freud points out to his daughter on her way to work as a lecturer in child psychoanalysis. A refugee who escaped Vienna by the skin of his teeth, and suffering the painful effects of oral cancer, Freud is curious to meet and speak with the latest Christian apologist. When the bright-eyed, enthusiastic Lewis shows up on his doorstep prepared to defend his most recent literary work, in which he takes a few good-natured pokes at Freud, the two men begin a battle of rapier wits that gets in a few good jabs as they discuss morality, religion, and, of course, sex.


In the day they spend together, they have a few heated confrontations, a few quiet moments together, and witness one another in their most vulnerable states, as Freud suffers from the oral cancer that will drive him to commit suicide a few weeks later, and Lewis has a violent PTSD reaction to an air raid siren that brings back terrible memories of the war. I had to watch this film twice before I could sum up my thoughts about it. My first time through I had high expectations and the story let me down a little with certain creative choices, but with my second viewing I knew what to expect and could relax more into the narrative. This story is based on a book that compared their two opposing theologies, and then inspired a play that pitted them intellectually against one another, but the script also gives us insight into each man’s personal life, their similar childhood experiences, and even their hypocritical natures, especially Freud. Here, he seems to be almost in a state of advanced delusion, regressing into thinking of his daughter as an “innocent child” and in denial of her as a sexual being.


The most confronting moment with Freud comes when a colleague points out that Freud’s daughter is middle-aged and has no room in her life for anyone but her father; she is codependent and their relationship is awkward, if not downright inappropriate. Anna (Liv Lisa Fries) also faces similar criticism from her lesbian lover, who feels upset that Anna cannot live with her in open, out of fear of what her father may think. Her father, meanwhile, says homosexuality is normal (men) but that lesbianism is not, and refuses to admit to the truth about his daughter, while insisting to Lewis that lesbians are caused by their father figure. The script flips around then to take a poke at Lewis’ relationship with his dead best friend’s mother, with whom he shares a house. Lewis remains closed-mouthed about the extent of that relationship (though in a flashback scene to his conversion, she asks him to “come to bed,” implying they are intimate), and gets defensive when Freud tries to probe into it. In real life, no one is sure of what went on between Lewis and the woman who shared his house, but most people agree it was platonic. Here, it isn’t clear, and seems an awkward point to raise. But, everyone has to get a little bit harpooned, else it isn’t fair.


I also did not understand at first why they included Anna so much, but I think they wanted to make a story about all three of them, as opposed to just “Freud and Lewis.” Some of the arguments and points that come up are quite deep, and others are differences of opinion. I expected more theological debate, but the script does let their individual points breathe and it invites the audience to think more deeply about spiritual matters, which is something Lewis would appreciate. As he pointed out in The Screwtape Letters, and also here, it’s better for man to think about God sometimes than not at all. And despite the actor looking and sounding nothing like Lewis, I think he captured well Lewis’ spunky, feisty, and yet good-humored nature (polite, deferential, and yet unwilling to back down when pushed) in contrast to Freud’s militant, fierce opinions and character. It makes for an intellectual clash that is quite rewarding, and the film does its best to stay interesting, even if it is mostly confined to a drawing room. It takes us on a couple of walks, it gives us flash-backs into both boys’ lives, it shows us glimpses of the war, and it winds up with Lewis going home in the dark on a train, smiling but also aware of his own fears related to the impending war. The costumes are decent, the acting is good, particularly from Hopkins who forty years ago played Lewis in the heart-wrenching Shadowlands, and it left me thinking, yearning to dive back into my theological opinions, to come up with some sort of my own defense of what I believe, and to put my finger on just what it is… so for me, the film did its job. But it is slow-moving and “heady,” so it may not be to everyone’s taste.

Sexual Content:
Before Lewis became a Christian, it's implied he may have shared a bed with an older woman. Freud tries to pin him down on this point, but Lewis becomes uncomfortable and deflects off his personal life. The two mention and debate sex, with Freud talking about oral pleasures and Lewis saying that all anyone does is talk about sex, as if humans invented it. Anna is in a lesbian relationship, of which her father does not approve; she and her lover discuss this and hold hands. In a delusional state, Freud sees them in bed together, stroking each other; he also sees a living statue of lovers entwined, in which the man has his hand over the female statue's breasts. Anna in a flashback talks about her sexual fantasies of being taken by a man, and forced to touch him on the breast and between his legs (she moves her hand there to illustrate).



Air raid sirens send everyone down into the church basement, where Lewis experiences violent, traumatic PTSD flashbacks to the war. We follow him through a flash back into battle, as he huddles in a foxhole beside his best friend, who is later killed by shrapnel. Blasts go off, bullets fly, and Lewis is thrown through the air and falls down a shaft where he lies pinned beneath the rubble, shouting for help next to a dead man. We see doctors picking shrapnel out of a man's leg in the hospital. Freud coughs up blood and has Lewis help him remove his bloody false teeth. He often looks at the pill with which he will later commit suicide.


Bad Language:

Freud says a few bad words here and there (bastard, damn, and hell).

Charity's Novels!

Get caught up on her fantastic books!