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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Dutch

MOVIE REVIEW: Freud's Last Session

In 2013, over the course of 6 months, 9th Hour toured the Canadian premiere of Freud’s Last Session in various venues in the National Capital Region and Eastern Ontario, featuring myself as Sigmund Freud and Jonathan Harris as C.S. Lewis. The two of us, along with a couple other 9th Hour artists, recently viewed the movie of the same name (released in 2023), featuring Anthony Hopkins as Freud and Matthew Goode as Lewis.

The play... is based on a clash of worldviews between the Christian Lewis and the atheist Freud and strikes a balance between the two. The movie, by contrast, abandons this balance...

The story is organized around a fictional encounter between two intellectual giants of the 20th century.  It takes place in Freud’s London home on September 3, 1939 on the day that Britain declares war with Germany.  Lewis is a 40-year-old Oxford don formulating many of the ideas that would position him as a celebrated Christian apologist.  Freud is an 83-year-old refugee from Austria, who is suffering from oral cancer and will take his own life two weeks later.  They debate the existence of God.

Although the movie contains a lot of dialogue verbatim from the play, it gives short shrift to Lewis’s Christian worldview.

The play was written by Mark St. Germain in 2010 and won off Broadway’s Best New Play award.  It is based on a clash of worldviews between the Christian Lewis and the atheist Freud and strikes a balance between the two.  The movie, by contrast, abandons this balance in two key aspects from my point of view.  

 

First, we were struck by how few lines were given to Lewis compared to Freud. In one respect, this is normal and predictable because movies are a business built around star vehicles.  This movie is called ‘Freud’s Last Session’ and international film star Anthony Hopkins plays Freud, so the movie showcases Hopkins.  


 Interestingly, we attended the movie at the local Bytowne Cinema with two other 9th Hour artists. One is a regular at the Bytowne and said it rarely plays to a full house, and she had seen the play in NYC off Broadway. She remembers being deeply moved and intellectually challenged by the play but experienced neither from the movie. According to another regular, Anthony Hopkins was the reason for the sellout. Some of our group agreed that we never really believed Hopkins as Freud but enjoyed watching Hopkins do Hopkins anyway.

 

St. Germain collaborated with the director Matthew Brown to write the screenplay.  Although the movie contains a lot of dialogue verbatim from the play, it gives short shrift to Lewis’s Christian worldview.  For example, it does not include Lewis’s conversion story or his strong presentation of the Gospel.  His arguments for a strong belief in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour are truncated compared to a generous allocation of time to Freud’s criticisms of Christianity.

I found director Brown’s influence on the movie neutralized my emotional involvement in the story—it cooled rather than heated the clash of ideas.

Unlike most movie reviewers, I’ll declare my bias right up front in that we (myself as Freud and Jonathan Harris as Lewis) studied the script and inhabited the minds and bodies of these characters for almost a year, plus I deeply value the Gospel….so I view this movie through a particular lens not shared by most reviewers, which brings me to my second criticism of the movie.

 

I found director Brown’s influence on the movie neutralized my emotional involvement in the story—it cooled rather than heated the clash of ideas.  As you might expect, he uses cinematic devices--mainly cutaways involving scene recreations and dream sequences--to substitute or summarize evocative chunks of dialogue from the play. But he also used this device to construct an elaborate subplot that does not exist at all in the play.  


While homosexuality is mentioned once in the play, and Freud’s daughter, Anna, is only referred to by Freud over several phone calls, she is featured as a main character in the movie.  A great deal of screen time is given to Anna’s (abnormal) devotion to her father while secretly managing her lesbian relationship.  When Freud is experiencing a great deal of pain, he calls Anna and insists she cancel her lecture immediately and return home.  He castigates her with a line that is not in the play at all: “…you must come home immediately…you would have time for me if you spent less time with her…I need you here!”  The movie points at an emotional co-dependency between Freud and Anna while Freud draws out Lewis’s prejudice against homosexuality.

 

This subplot was manufactured it seems like a deliberate nod to a different agenda that is indifferent to Christianity. In doing so, I think it dilutes the play’s robust and respectful treatment of two heavy weight intellectuals with opposing worldviews that continue to shape and influence our culture today.


 

GEORGE DUTCH is Associate Artistic Director of 9th Hour Theatre Company.

Read another blog by George about the artistic process to become a character.

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