Bigger and longer are not always better. A typical example: Freud’s last session, the lavish film based on a modest off-Broadway play that captivated theater audiences a decade ago. Playwright Mark St. Germain worked with director Matthew Brown (The man who knew infinity) to recast his two-person drama about an imaginary conversation between Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis as they debate the existence of God. These provocative exchanges are still present in the film, and there are occasional crackles thanks to the performances of Matthew Goode as Lewis and especially Anthony Hopkins as Freud. But the core of the story is constantly undermined by a profusion of asides about Lewis’s experiences in World War I, Freud’s fraught relationship with his daughter Anna, and several other subplots.

The main reason for this could be the current fashion for time-broken, non-linear narratives. It’s rare these days to see a film that unfolds in strict chronological order. Sometimes the non-linear template can work effectively, as in Christopher Nolan’s sparkling film Oppenheimer (although not in all of Nolan’s films). But fashion has definitely gotten out of control and can cause stories that would have been told in a simpler way to dilute potentially compelling stories.

Freud’s last session

The conclusion: The conversations are sparkling, the flashbacks are irritating.

Venue: AFI Fest
Pour: Anthony Hopkins, Matthew Goode, Liv Lisa Fries
Director: Matthew Brown
Screenwriters: Mark St Germain, Matthew Brown
2 hours 1 minute

The main story takes place in September 1939, shortly after Hitler invaded Poland and plunged Europe into war. Freud came to London a year earlier, after the Nazis invaded Vienna. Lewis is an Oxford lecturer who has not yet written his beloved Narnia books but has recently converted to Christianity after years as an unbeliever. He admires Freud’s work and enjoys the idea of ​​having a debate about religion with the brilliant psychoanalyst. Freud’s skepticism about religion is well documented in writings such as… The future of an illusionbut Lewis, realizing that Freud is dying of cancer, suspects that the doctor may be willing to consider the idea of ​​an afterlife.

It’s understandable that Brown wanted to move the action outside of Freud’s study, and a scene in which an air raid drives Freud and Lewis, along with many other Londoners, to seek refuge in a church (appropriately ironic) is a valuable addition to that Story . Less valuable is a barrage of flashbacks. Some show Freud as a child with his weak-willed father. Many others depict Lewis’s convoluted history, beginning with the death of his mother when he was a child, through his travails during World War I, and ending with a bizarre interlude involving his romance with the mother (Orla Brady) of a slain comrade in battle.

There are also scenes depicting Lewis’s friendship with Lewis Lord of the rings Author JRR Tolkien (Stephen Campbell Moore). Some of these sequences might be interesting in a biographical film about Lewis, but here they seem rushed and superficial and have little to do with the philosophical dialogue between Lewis and Freud that forms the core of the story.

Some of the subplots involving Freud are more compelling, particularly when they touch on his relationship with his daughter Anna (played vividly by Liv Lisa Fries), who became a renowned child analyst in the years after Freud’s death. But again, the film contains a number of tantalizing tidbits without doing full justice to them.

At some point, Freud tells Lewis that he himself psychoanalyzed Anna, which today would be considered an egregious breach of professional ethics. The issue is addressed and then deleted. We also learn of Anna’s lesbian relationship with a colleague, Dorothy Burlingham (Jodi Balfour), which her father finds difficult to accept. In one scene, Freud reveals surprising tolerance for male homosexuality but expresses his disapproval of lesbianism. This likely reflects the sexist prejudices that were widespread at the time, but the issue remains unresolved.

All of these asides detract from the exciting debate between intellectuals. But even if you acknowledge and regret the conceptual misjudgments that mar the film, there are moments to enjoy. The conversations between the doctor and the Don remain stimulating and the two central performances provide additional tension.

Goode has taken on a number of roles in films such as… Downton Abbey, The imitation game, Match point And The lookout (in which he made a scary villain). Here he is convincing as an intellectual who obviously admires Freud and sincerely wants to help him find solace. Hopkins is great. He chooses to play the role without an Austrian accent, but he perfectly captures the doctor’s mental strength as well as his physical frailty. Hopkins enjoyed a pretty amazing resurgence towards the end of his career, and this achievement can be added to that list of achievements. It’s unfortunate that Brown keeps deviating from the analyst and turning to all these superfluous supporting characters.

Another plus point is that this film is exceptionally well made. The cinematography by Ben Smithard (who shot Hopkins’ recent films with director Florian Zeller, The father And The son) and production design by Luciana Arrighi (who worked on two previous Hopkins films, Howard’s End And The rest of the day) help bring the past alive. Coby Brown’s score is subtle and haunting. And if you’re looking for a fascinating companion piece, you should stop by here Shadowlands (an excellent film) to see Hopkins as CS Lewis at a different stage in the famous author’s life.

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