Tag Archives: Matt Brown

Meeting of Minds

Freud’s Last Session

by Christie Robb

Freud’s Last Session imagines the lengthy conversation that might have taken place had a young C.S. Lewis (author of the Chronicles of Narnia) taken a train down from Oxford to meet up with a dying Sigmund Freud to debate the existence of God.

It could have happened. An anonymous Oxford don did apparently chat with Freud toward the end of his life in 1939, right as England was declaring war on Hitler’s Germany. But history didn’t record the identity of the scholar.

Freud, the man behind the field of psychoanalysis, is a committed atheist and he’s keen to talk to Lewis (already a published author and famous Christian about town) about the origins and inner workings of a faith he’d come to as an adult.

Freud is played by Anthony Hopkins (who once played C.S. Lewis beautifully in 1993’s Shadowlands). He delivers the layered and nuanced performance you’d expect from someone as talented as Hopkins. Still, it manages to feel that he’s giving you Freud’s greatest hits instead of plumbing the depth of this controversial and legendary figure. (He’s shown chomping a cigar talking about regressing to his oral stage of development and absentmindedly fiddling with a pair of scissors after discussing the fear of castration.) But that’s not Hopkins’ fault. Hopkins finds both the fear and the playfulness sprinkled amidst the theory.

Matthew Goode plays Lewis and he is good. He manages to hold his own with Hopkins. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have nearly as much material to work with. He doesn’t expand much about Lewis’s philosophy. Hopkins gets all the best lines.

Freud’s Last Session is adapted from a stage play and you can feel the director/co-writer Matt Brown (The Man Who Knew Infinity) struggling with that legacy.

The film is beautifully set, almost a Pinterest board of all things Dark Academia. It’s shot in chiaroscuro—a high contrast technique that sets off a highlighted subject against a dark background. Perfect lighting for weighty discussions about the legacy of war, why bad things happen to good people, and why one’s daughter feels compelled to tell one about her genderbending S&M fantasies.

To adapt the material to film, Brown makes use of cutaways to what is happening elsewhere while the men chat—whether that is what is happening on the same day but elsewhere or flashbacks.

We see an overburdened Anna Freud (the doctor’s daughter, not his wife, although you’d certainly be forgiven for mistaking her for a spouse given the way the old man treats her) and flashbacks to the two central men’s formative years. However, the cutaways interrupt the flow of the debate. Although sometimes beautiful, they seem like a deflection and distraction from what might have been weightier revelations—like the subject was changed right as we were getting to the good stuff. 

In the end, the film seems like a beautifully composed thought experiment, but it doesn’t exactly make for a satisfying story.

To Infinity, Not Beyond

The Man Who Knew Infinity

by Hope Madden

If you think a movie about math can’t be thrilling, well, The Man Who Knew Infinity won’t prove you wrong.

Writer/director Matt Brown’s painfully earnest biopic of Indian mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel) seeks to tackle divine inspiration, institutional racism, culture clash, colonialism, and mathematical proof against the backdrop of WWI Britain. Unfortunately, the film feels far more hemmed in by cinematic tradition than inspired by historical events.

Brown’s approach is certainly by-the-numbers, and a stifling respect for the subject hamstrings the effort. Ramanujan is never more than an utterly wholesome, godlike presence. A lead turn by Patel does nothing to burst through the clichés. As has been the case in each of his films, Patel’s performance is broadly drawn and lacking depth.

He isn’t given much to work with, truth be told. Brown’s screenplay offers little more than saintly suffering. Look how nobly he endures taunts, cultural misunderstandings, loneliness, illness!

The scenes at home in India are even more appallingly respectful, everything quaintly simple and yet admirable. It’s as if Brown distrusts the audience with any complexity or information on Ramanujan they might deem offensive. (Like, for instance, that his wife was a 10-year-old when they married.)

As Ramanujan’s Cambridge mentor G.H. Hardy, Jeremy Irons, of course, shines. A veteran of the melancholy Englishman role, Irons inhabits this academic with emotional rigor mortis, occasionally lapsing into the most charming flashes of vulnerability and ardor. The subtlety and sly tenderness of his performance suggests a longing that nearly revives the film from its terminal anemia.

A handful of supporting turns – Toby Jones, Jeremy Northam – almost add layers, but Brown’s screenplay relies so heavily on the rote of Traditional British Cinema that the film never gets the chance to breathe.

I’m willing to bet that Srinivasa Ramanujan was a flawed and fascinating person – geniuses so often are. Too bad Brown is content to see him as a romantic mystery.