“Leave to the night what belongs to the night.”
Young Sigmund Freud (Montgomery Clift) — mentored by father-figure Dr. Joseph Breuer (Larry Parks) — develops his controversial psychoanalytical theory while caring for a variety of mentally ill patients, including a hysterical woman unable to walk or drink water (Susannah York).
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Flashback Films
- John Huston Films
- Montgomery Clift Films
- Susannah York Films
Considered by many to be a flawed if interesting failure, John Huston’s condensed tale of Freud’s evolution as a theorist and practitioner in the nascent field of psychoanalysis tells a surprisingly taut mystery story, one grounded in the ever-elusive search for traumatic origins. Through an exploration of Freud’s interactions with several strategically constructed hysterical patients — interwoven with potent flashbacks from Freud’s own dreams and past — we understand how he came to develop, one insight at a time, his highly controversial theories of repression and neurosis. Because so much has been (and continues to be) learned about psychology and the unconscious, it’s easy to dismiss Freud’s valuable contributions to the early field of psychotherapy; yet Huston’s biopic is less an adulation of Freud (who comes across as appropriately neurotic) than an exploration of how wide-reaching theories evolve and face criticism within a certain era and social milieu.
Grounding the film are strong central performances by Clift and Susannah York, as well as wonderfully atmospheric cinematography (by Douglas Slocombe) and creative direction. The flashback scenes, while occasionally contrived, appropriately convey the panic and confusion often felt in one’s dreams and in the slippery memories of childhood. The literate script, though talky, is surprisingly absorbing; according to Jonathan Rosenbaum’s review in The Chicago Reader, the film was actually “scripted mainly by Jean-Paul Sartre”, who “withdrew his name from the project after his second draft — which would have made a much longer film — was radically condensed”. Keeping in mind that biopics can never fully or adequately cover the scope of a famous individual’s life, Freud nonetheless remains a worthy entry in our understanding of this controversial figure.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
Yes, as an unusual and compelling psychological thriller by a master filmmaker.