The Lion, the Psychoanalyst, and the Wardrobe

Beauty and brains and virtue never dwell
Together in one place, the critics say
Yet we have known a case
You must not ask her name
But seek it ‘twixt July and May

C.S. Lewis penned these lines inside a book he gifted to Sigmund Freud’s granddaughter-in-law June. To be clear, Lewis knew her then as June (Jill) Flewett, a sixteen-year-old who was moved to Oxford for safety as bombs fell over London during World War II. Of the children who stayed at the Lewis residence, affectionally known as the Kilns, none made a greater impact on Lewis than June.

Lewis’s stepson Douglas Gresham later wrote June to tell her she was the real life inspiration for the beloved Narnia character Lucy. For full disclosure, there are other theories for the inspiration of the lead child in Narnia, like Lewis’s goddaughter Lucy Barfield, to whom Lewis dedicated The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. One thing is certain, however, Lewis dearly loved June.

When June moved out to the Kilns, Lewis wrote her mother and expressed his sadness at her departure, “When June goes the only bright spot in our prospect goes with her.” June later married Sir Clement Freud — grandson of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. It’s likely Lewis and his brother Warren would have attended the wedding. Perhaps there, he may even have met the famous father of psychoanalysis whose writings Lewis mentioned in various publications.

In fact, there is better support for this chance encounter than anything in the recent release “Freud’s Last Session” staring Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins is no stranger to C.S. Lewis. The acclaimed actor played the beloved author in the film Shadowlands thirty years ago. Like Shadowlands, the new feature includes some glaring historical inaccuracies. But it excels all the more in misrepresenting reality. It weds contested details with outlandish speculation. Just before the credits roll, a statement appears on the big screen that Freud once met with an unnamed Oxford don and that no one will ever know if it was Lewis or not. To say it was very unlikely C.S. Lewis with whom Freud met is a massive understatement.

There is apparently a play that provides a narrative framework for the film that can be traced back to a book The Question of God, which I read years ago and have used on occasion in the classroom. PBS made an interesting documentary on the book as well. What the movie lacks in historical details or accuracy is at least mitigated by the existence of previous comparisons between the two public intellects. Perhaps, like Thanos, the movie was inevitable.

Though I know precious little about the details of Freud’s life, I can attest to the validity of several lines and events about Lewis can indeed be traced back to his writings and biography. I shared with my friend J.R. Gilhooly, who attended the movie with me last night, that there were scenes I absolutely loved that other theatrical depictions of Lewis’s life either miss or present poorly. There were a few lines from Lewis, however, that I felt would in no way have been spoken by the British apologist.

The film portrays the two men as complex if not contradictory. Based on a disputed detail about Lewis’s personal life, the film begins with Lewis and a woman preparing to go to bed together. Lewis indeed shared a house with her for a number of years. Her name was Janie Moore. She was the mother of Lewis’s fallen friend from WWII. Lewis’s alleged hypocrisy is juxtaposed with Freud, known for his focus on sexuality, whose strained relationship with his daughter was based on his disproval of her lesbian lover.

If one were looking for a winner of the film, like the winner of a debate, I think the feature favors Freud. Better put, it better serves Anthony Hopkins, who is, after all, Anthony Hopkins. The movie ends with a bit of an odd resolution for both characters, Lewis and joy, and Freud and his daughter Anna.

“Isn’t he the Christian apologist,” Anna says to her father at the beginning of the movie. “Yes, they have a lot to apologize for,” Freud responds.

This kind of charming banter about contrasting worldviews fills the film. Is it likely that anything like this conversation ever happened? Not really. But the movie sets important themes into a very human context with well loved figures who make it look as though meaningful dialogue around debated topics is altogether possible. If nothing else, I left the theater thankful that a movie like this — with such serious topics centered around important and influential minds portrayed by amazing actresses and actors — is even a viewing option among films concerned with lesser things.