Arts & Culture

Freud In Narnia

What happens when Freud talks to CS Lewis? Read More

By / August 4, 2011
Jewcy loves trees! Please don't print!

At some point in our lives, whether in childhood or during those super cool teenage years, and possibly even in those years of emerging maturity, we’ve all played the game of history. “If you could meet any one person from history, dead or alive, who would it be and why?”

“Dave Matthews,” I once answered, to which my friend replied, “Nope. Wrong answer. Try harder.” Or, with a slight twist, “If you could sit down any two personalities from history and listen in on their conversation, who would you choose?” Apparently, more than a few people would choose C.S. Lewis in conversation with Sigmund Freud.

Freud’s Last Session, written by Mark St. Germain and inspired by the book The Question of God by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., imagines a conversation between Freud and Lewis these two disparate, yet equally immense intellects. Freud (played by the delightfuly arrogant and humorous Tuck Milligan), at the twilight of his professional career, dying from oral cancer invites Lewis (a wonderfully respectful but forceful Mark H. Dold), the budding scholar, to his beautifully designed office to understand why Lewis, the one-time stubborn atheist, now ardently fights for the cause of Christ. What ensues is a sharp, fast, witty conversation that touches upon every topic in philosophy and psychology 101: good and evil, sex, war, morality, logic, immortality, the nature of our desires, and of course the all-important question of God. The play, a brisk 80 minutes, inches dangerously close to masking these fascinating personalities behind their beliefs, but overcomes this danger by letting the characters breathe through numerous twists of the script.

The backdrop of the session, England’s Prime Minister Chamberlain declaring war on Germany, allows each character to overcome his stubborn need to win the debate through connecting to the pain of the other human in the room. Twice during the play air raids threaten the two protagonists, and in those moments their humanity shines through. Freud, dying, cynical towards the goodness of humanity, and planning euthanasia, opens up with regard to his fear of death, and Lewis, traumatized by his experiences in the First World War, admits to his doubts, to his struggle with, instead of certainty, of God. This is not to say that the debate, full of quick quips and witty repartee, will not delight you, but like the Grand Inquistor scene in the Brothers Karamazov, the philosophical arguments excite us because of the familial tension between Ivan and Alexy. Otherwise, the words of these masters found in their prolific outputs would suffice.

Frankly, though an exhilarating pairing, I would choose to overhear the conversations between Moses and Jesus, or Buddha and Mohammed. (Can you imagine the conversations between Moses and Jesus taking place in the 21st century, after seeing what all their decisions have wrought?) Moreover, in terms of Christian apologetics, I would choose Pascal over Lewis, although Lewis’s life lends itself more to dramatization, and for the role of the strong atheist, I would take Nietzsche over Freud any day. In fact, much of Freud’s critique of religion comes off as derivative and childish, as do the apologetics of Lewis, both in their writings and in this play. But alas, this enjoyable game of history is not my own to play. Though the viewer most likely won’t find answers to the larger questions of life, the play reminds us that the search for ultimate meaning, a search that need not be based on dogma, still remains relevant to our day and age, an experience not often found in our supposedly post-religious world.