Freud: The Secret Passion ★★★★

A surprisingly thunderous movie. Charles Kaufman's screenplay isn't a biopic at all, more a condensation of the thinker's ideas into a chamber drama of heavy-handed significance. All of his theories are crammed into one patient, Cecily Koertner. Susannah York's performance is a lot more restrained than, say, Keira Knightley's in A Dangerous Method or Tippi Hedren's in Marnie. Montgomery Clift is equally modest, though that doesn't necessarily mean he's bad. It's more than the film's performances are subservient to its mood.

Which is to say that Freud feels like a philosophical noir in which the femme fatale is the presence of sexuality and the oppressive sense of damnation comes from the medical establishment. Huston and Kaufman have no interest in showing Freud as a victorious beacon of scientific discovery - we know that going in, it's self-evident and shouted by Huston's introduction. Rather, all of the elements wrap Vienna in a dark cloud of doubt. Jerry Goldsmith's score is practically malevolent. DP Douglas Slocombe keeps everything dark and ominous. Huston's own narration, which opens and then infrequently interrupts the film, speaks past those opposed to recognizing Freud's ideas and proselytizes to the audience. The "Secret Passion" of the title is Sigmund's, as if he is a messiah of psychiatry ignored and then destroyed by his colleagues (like Copernicus and Darwin before him, the opening monologue reminds us). Yet this isn't a triumphant Biblical anointing of a hero, à la Ben-Hur. It's a disturbing passion play, like the cinematic equivalent of a Benjamin Britten church parable.

Oh, and the various dream sequences are freaky and wonderful. They all feel like they could have been ripped from 8 1/2.

And Freud's wife calls him "Siggie," which is perfect.