Limp and lifeless: Freud’s Last Session reviewed

Freud’s Last Session stars Anthony Hopkins and Matthew Goode and is a work of speculative fiction asking what would have happened if Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis had met to debate the existence of God. What if two of the greatest minds of the 20th century had the chance to thrash it out? Thrash it out they do but, alas, they cannot thrash any life into this film. If you are planning to see it at the cinema, a few espressos beforehand may not go amiss. It is directed by Matthew Brown, who co-wrote the script with Mark St Germain, on whose play it is based. It takes place on

What do we mean when we say we are ‘giving up’?

Oscar Nemon’s statue of Sigmund Freud at the Tavistock Clinic glares out with such a contemptuous look of superior knowledge that Freud’s housekeeper told him it made him look too angry. ‘But I am angry,’ replied Freud. ‘I am angry with humanity.’ Meanwhile, the cover image of Adam Phillips’s new book on psychoanalysis is a detail of a figure from Michelangelo’s ‘Last Judgment’, cast down to damnation, face in hand, his eyes wracked with fear and regret, his muscular ring finger grinding anxiously into his muscular forehead. If you didn’t recognise him from the Sistine Chapel you could imagine an angry Freud, not an impassive Christ, glaring at him just

Have we all become more paranoid since the pandemic?

As anyone who has ever been lucky enough to spend time in a psychiatric hospital knows, you don’t have to be completely mad to be there. A lot of us end up in the care of mental health professionals and jacked up on all sorts of crazy-person meds because something’s just not right: you know it, I know it, the dog in the street knows it. Those people are looking at us funny; those voices just won’t quieten down; it really isn’t safe out on the streets, so it must be better to draw the curtains, triple-lock the door and sit quietly in the dark eating only tinned fruit and

Double trouble: August Blue, by Deborah Levy, reviewed

The narrator-protagonist of Deborah Levy’s August Blue, an elite-level concert pianist called Elsa, is going through a difficult time. She recently walked off stage after messing up a Rachmaninoff recital in Vienna. More worryingly, she has just dyed her hair blue. At a market stall in Athens, she becomes entranced by a pair of novelty mechanical horses, but they’re snapped up by another customer with whom she becomes fixated. Elsa keeps noticing ‘the horse woman’ out and about, and starts to think of her as ‘a sort of psychic double’. She is deeply impressed when she sees her smoking a large cigar: ‘It was a poke at life. A provocation.

The art of the monarchy

Elizabeth II spent virtually all her life surrounded by one of the world’s greatest art collections. Even when she was a child, and the likelihood of her inheriting the throne still seemed remote, visits to her grandparents at Buckingham Palace involved looking at pictures, since George V enjoyed showing her the Victorian narrative paintings that hung there, such as William Powell Frith’s ‘Ramsgate Sands’. Nobody knows exactly how many works of art there are in the Royal Collection, but at the end of Elizabeth II’s reign nearly 300,000 objects had been catalogued online, probably just under a third of the whole. Among the many masterpieces are Andrea Mantegna’s monumental sequence

The treatment of mental illness continues to be a scandal

There is much more desperation in this searching and enlightening history than there are remedies. Andrew Scull is a distinguished sociologist and scholar of psychiatry. He comes across as wise, sanguine and unsurprised by his findings in this survey of how American – for which also read British – psychiatry has understood and treated the insane, distressed and traumatised from 1820 to the present. His book, however, will leave readers who are unfamiliar with the story horrified and aghast. Since my own breakdown and sectioning in early 2019 I have been working with sufferers, social workers and psychiatrists on improving the understanding and treatment of mental distress. Members of the

The rise of dream therapy

‘The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind.’ So said Freud in 1899 as the world was about to tip over into the dream obsessed twentieth century and its many decades of tortured introspection. For years, Freud has been roundly discredited. But it seems that, even if Freud remains unfashionable, his belief in the meaning of dreams is making a return, namely in the form of dream retreats and therapies marketed at our pandemic-addled subconscious. Whilst it was once formerly the duty of the long-suffering spouse to listen to last night’s dream – naked in an exam, driving down the