Films about conversations between unique individuals can be fascinating. Be it the simplistic staging of My Dinner with Andre or the provocative debates with One Night in Miami, a mere meeting of minds can be enough to hold a film. Perhaps Freud’s Last Session could have been that if it didn’t meander as much as it did.
This historical fiction depicts a rumored series of meetings between Sigmund Freud (Anthony Hopkins) and C. S. Lewis (Matthew Goode) right around the start of World War II. Both of them have different views on faith and engage in the familiar debate of arguing for the existence or non-existence of God. It’s an interesting concept, but, of course, it’s one that requires you to leave a piece of yourself and your history on the table.
The problem with a film like this is that it is constantly distracted by so much else ever to make the central topic organically flow to other angles. Just when it feels like we’re getting to the heart of the matter, Freud’s rocky relationship with his daughter, Anna (Liv Lisa Fries), will come up, or Lewis’s trauma from World War I will rise. There’s also that issue of World War II constantly banging in the background and threatening their safety.
With the old cliche of a therapist stating, “Let’s explore that,” when an adjacent topic arises, it feels like the film constantly gets lost in the heat of debate. Watching the conversations between the fractured and fragile Freud and Lewis is like watching a drunk and gambling addict trying to stage an intervention for each other. Any moment of touching on something deeper seems to be countered with a highlight of character, as though the challenged individual bites back with a, “Yeah, well, let’s explore THAT.” In that spirit, the film will take detours to explore Anna’s mental issues and social perceptions, just in case you don’t believe Freud’s problems.
Freud’s Last Session is a mess of interesting ideas that never make for an interesting enough movie. The performances by Hopkins and Goode are strong and are easily the movie’s best part. But the script they are handed is all over the place and stretched so long with its many plots that it’s no surprise it’s gone through the adaptation grinder of being based on a stage play based on a novel based on a rumor. With so many distractions and lesser-explored perspectives, the grand debate of two historical figures is watered down to mere melodrama. The session is already over before any epiphany or stellar argument is to be had, leaving this story on the floor as a pile of intriguing yet empty bluster.