“Freud’s Last Session”, in which Anthony Hopkins plays the role of Sigmund Freud, adds a new one to the end-of-episode performances of the 86-year-old actor. He was the soul of “The Time of Armageddon,” the reason to watch “The Godfather,” and the papal foil to Jonathan Pryce’s Pope Francis in “The Two Popes.” With the exception of James Gray’s more cinematically composed “Armageddon Time,” the films offered simple, flashy spectacle for Hopkins, a lion in winter.
“Freud’s Last Session” also comes from the stage and, like “The Two Popes,” focuses on the tête-à-tête of intellectual opposites. Mark St. Germain’s 2009 two-character play brought Freud and CS Lewis (played by Matthew Goode in the film) together for a speculative meeting in 1939 London.
As war with Germany becomes inevitable, the elderly Freud, suffering from oral cancer, prepares to host the Oxford academic at his home in London. The real starting point is that Freud is recorded as meeting with an unnamed Oxford lecturer three weeks before his death. As Freud’s daughter Anna (Liv Lisa Fries) prepares to leave in the morning, she mentions Lewis’s impending arrival. “Christian apologist?” he answers. “Yes,” she giggled.
Their conversations, which make up much of the film, imagine a spiritual debate between the father of psychoanalysis, a proud atheist and scientist, and Lewis, a theological believer who appeared in “Freud’s Last Session” in the years after “Freud’s Last Session.” . He wrote the Christian apologetic novel “The Screw Letters” and later the fantasy parables of “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
If their opposing positions didn’t create enough drama, air raid sirens are blaring (Hitler has just taken over Poland) and Freud’s health is in such poor health that he glances at a suicide pill several times a day while dropping morphine into his whiskey. . Death and history buffer their conversations about God, fear, and pain.
However, the elements in “Freud’s Last Session” are never completely coherent. The rhythm of the conversation feels choppy and lacks the probing exchanges that might excite an ambidextrous person. Freud – or Hopkins? – He is very good at speaking. Goode remains more observational, with less to ponder, and stays aloof to ensure his Lewis fully engages with Freud.
Screenwriting by St. Director Matthew Brown, who shared it with Germain, artificially “opened” the play to include flashbacks and side events; especially that of Anna, whose extreme devotion to her father influenced Freud’s discussions of sexuality. But Anna’s story, which includes her relationship with a woman named Dorothy Tiffany Burlingham (Jodi Balfour) who is not accepted by her father, is too complicated to include in the theological discussion. It feels like a movie in itself. The extreme blurring of shadows in “Freud’s Last Session” also contributes to the film’s lack of clarity.
But Freud and Lewis’s dialogue sometimes finds intriguing commonalities. Fantasy figures prominently in both minds; Freud in his dream analysis, Lewis in the dream worlds he would create. And both draw their beliefs in part from childhood experiences that color their lives. Freud says, “I have only two words to offer to humanity: Growth.”
And Hopkins continues to be riveting. Nearly three decades after memorably portraying Lewis in 1993’s “Shadowlands,” he now stars opposite the novelist, adding to the film’s poignancy.
But I think my memory will bring together some of these late Hopkins films. In each of them, he presents pains and joys as well as grappling with a successful life. He might be picking an azalea in “Freud’s Last Session” or watching a grandchild fly a model rocket in “Armageddon Time.” But each performance crackles with wit, wisdom and playfulness in the face of the inevitable. They contribute to a sad film cycle of big questions and small moments.
“Freud’s Last Session” — 2 stars (out of 4)
MPA rating: PG-13 (thematic material, some blood/violent images, sexual material and smoking)
Running time: 108 minutes
How to watch: In theaters January 4