‘Freud’s Last Session’ Ending Explained & Film Summary: Does Freud Affect Lewis’ Faith?


Armand Nicholi’s The Question of God took to the stage with Mark St. Germain’s play Freud’s Last Session. After watching the Sir Anthony Hopkins-starrer, I can safely say that it shouldn’t have come to the screen. When expecting a no-holds-barred, fiery exchange of perspectives between two behemoths like Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis, you simultaneously expect the conversations to have a little more than everyday intellectual discourse. None of the points raised by the atheist and the believer in Freud’s Last Session are of the intellectual depth you’d presume these two would possess. The language is fustian only because it has to be. 

Spoiler Alert

What happens in the movie?

With World War II triggering Britain’s PTSD from the first one, Anna Freud offers to deprioritize her lecture. Chamberlain’s just realized Hitler isn’t budging from Poland. But the 1939 September day in Freud’s London household is about to witness a war of another kind. C. S. Lewis has satirized Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” with his “Pilgrim’s Regress,” and as a staunch advocate of Bunyan’s literary brilliance, Freud’s taken it a bit personally. But this invitation to debate their conflicting positions on the spectrum of religiosity has a purpose that Lewis should take as a compliment. The father of modern psychoanalysis finds it a difficult pill to swallow that someone so bright chose to abandon atheism. Lewis is here to make his case. And he’s already off to a bad start with his late arrival. 

Could their upbringings have a role to play in their perspectives?

In any conversation that demands an explanation of the whys and the whats, it’s almost impossible to dodge the trip down memory lane. In Freud’s case, the first seed of his atheism was his confusion between two religions in his formative years. He was caught between his nanny’s staunch faith in Christ and his father’s Jewish faith. Freud didn’t like his father much, and the need to idolize him in order to love him never occurred to him. The old doctor doesn’t exactly hit the nail on the head with his assumption that Lewis’ parents must’ve been the ones to inject faith into him at an early age, when, in fact, losing his mother and being sent off to boarding school in London was the death of faith for him. I guess the first active thought about the creator and the idea of creation came to him when he saw the gift his brother made from him. The miniature forest in the biscuit tin, complete with little toy deer, gave him a lifelong craving for that exact joy he felt when he saw it. It’s this same joy over something that is only real if it’s believed that little Lewis will later go on to find in religion. 

What did Freud and C. S. Lewis debate about?

The thing that catches Freud off guard is the process of Lewis’ rejection of atheism. The most significant influence on Lewis’ take on faith was Tolkien. It was through Tolkien that Lewis figured there was a difference between pagan myths and Christian myths. In his search for the most burning question when it comes to Christianity—whether Jesus had actually walked the earth or not—Lewis went through every scripture available. To Freud’s amusement, Lewis believed in the gospels because they hardly seemed like artistic creations and lacked that refinement. While Freud, an avid collector of idols of all religions, could confine his interest to the limits of a hobby or even a fixation, finding the apparent “truth” about God turned things around for Lewis. When the topic of sex was inevitably brought up by the “sex doctor,” with his blanket take on sexual pleasure being at the root of everything that brings joy, Lewis visibly flinched. But it didn’t take him long to bring God into the conversation, either. It’s ironic how Freud could chastise Lewis for picking and choosing the bits of the gospels that impose sadistic barriers on something as normal as sex. But at the same time, Freud himself isn’t the most open-minded of the lot when it comes to his idea of lesbianism. Something he believes is invariably connected to a woman’s relationship with her father. But the irony isn’t just Freud’s burden to bear. The fact that Lewis has found companionship in Jenie, his friend’s mother, readily contradicts his Christian sensibilities. 

What was Anna’s and Sigmund’s relationship like?

Like everything else around him, Freud controlled his daughter with a callous self-awareness. It’s as though he’s so comfortable with his human flaws that he normalizes a lot of abusive traits in himself. For instance, he’s so used to maintaining his unhealthy codependent dynamic with his daughter that he feels entitled to turn a possible suitor away on her behalf. That, too, by claiming that she’s not mature enough when she’s well into her 40s. Freud isn’t willing to acknowledge Anna’s relationship with Dorothy, even though he’s well aware of the same, given that Dorothy was his patient back in Vienna. Anna is often dismissive of Dorothy’s feelings when the latter is understandably bothered by Anna’s odd attachment to her father. Freud has gotten so hopelessly dependent on Anna that she’s the only one allowed to touch the prosthetic in his mouth. Even on a day where the announcement of the impending war has made all the pharmacists close shop, Anna is determined to get that morphine for her cancer-stricken father, come hell or high water. But that really doesn’t come as a surprise, considering, back in Vienna, Anna volunteered to be imprisoned and tortured by the Gestapo to protect her father. Freud’s hardly ignorant of how uncomfortable this dynamic is. Under the influence of pain relievers, he even hallucinated something intimate between Anna and a statue. I guess it was his discomfort with Anna’s sexuality that made him pull the brakes on their sessions about her bizarre fantasies. Anna went on to become a celebrated psychoanalyst. And even though there’s no real account of her and Dorothy’s friendship being anything more than platonic, I wonder if her father’s disapproval had a part to play in the possible secrecy around it. 

Does Freud affect Lewis’ faith?

At the end of the day, it all comes down to pain. Both Lewis and Freud have had their fair share. But the discourse around pain, both personal and broad, is all the more unavoidable for the two when there’s a war being waged. When the conversation inevitably comes down to why God allows his creation to be tainted with so much evil and pain, Lewis doesn’t pretend to have the answers. Even in his strong faith in Christ, Lewis has moments of doubt. Doubts about whether God’s just not good enough or not powerful enough to vanquish pain and suffering. Freud has had enough brushes with loss and tragedy to reject the idea that everything is a part of God’s plan. His daughter Sophia died at the age of 27, and his 5-year-old grandson died soon after. Freud can’t make sense of how these deaths can fit into the grand scheme of things and most certainly can’t figure out the purpose of it all. To Freud, religion stunts people’s growth and keeps them as little children scared of the dark. But it’s this very childlike joy that he’s found in the love of God that perhaps keeps Lewis going in this wretched world. 

Lewis’s way of catching Freud habitually letting out a couple of “thank God-s” comes off as rather infantile. When it comes to the basis of their respective takes on faith, Freud’s reasoning is far more articulate. But that doesn’t mean his jabs are any less absurd. There’s a scene in the first act where an air-raid siren makes the two take shelter in the local church bunker. When Lewis is breathless in his fear of an impending bomb, Freud helps the poor man out. While it’s very clearly a reasonable case of PTSD in a World War I vet, Freud sees it as a contradiction in Lewis’ faith. He wonders why a child of God would be worried about death when it only promises that they’ll be embraced by the loving arms of their maker. In a way, quite ironically, Freud made his peace with the idea of death more easily than a Christian like Lewis. Yet, the poison pill he keeps around, possibly cyanide, means that he means to die in a manner that’s not very Bible-approved. He once secretly handed this pill to his daughter when she was pulled away by the Nazis, in case things got too hard for her to live through. This only goes to show that Freud’s belief in personal agency challenges the morals that Christianity adheres to—that human beings shouldn’t get to choose their death. Freud would soon go on to end his life with his doctor’s assistance. 

In Freud’s Last Session‘s ending, the only change that the film sees in the two men is the fact that they’ve come to become friends. Even though neither of them has budged from their respective positions, each of them has made sure to be respectful and kind above all else. Freud has calmed Lewis down in his state of panic-born hyperventilation, and Lewis repays this generosity by helping Freud with the prosthetic in his mouth. On his way back, Lewis’ dream takes him to the scary depths of the dark woods that kind of resemble the forest that Freud willingly got lost in as a child. While a child Freud relished this isolation, which left Lewis puzzled and terrified in his dream. The fact that only the light of God comforts him, even in his subconscious, only suggests that Lewis has already chosen his path. When you consider the fact that it must’ve taken a rigorous exercise of thought for each of them to settle on their personal views on religion, you can see why they’d find it impossible to change each other’s minds. In real life, even though Freud reportedly met an Oxford don around the same time, there’s no way to say for sure that it was C. S. Lewis. And even if there were a real meeting, who knows if God would’ve been their topic of conversation? So you can see why it’d be futile to study their future choices on the basis of a debate that might not even have taken place in real life. 

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Lopamudra Mukherjee
Lopamudra Mukherjee
In cinema, Lopamudra finds answers to some fundamental questions of life. And since jotting things down always makes overthinking more fun, writing is her way to give this madness a meaning.

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