Judge David Johnson was hoping for a cage match between these two intellectual heavyweights, but there's no actual bloodshed in this documentary.
No matter what your faith, or what you believe, how each of us understands the meaning of life comes down to how we answer one ultimate question: Does God really exist?
PBS presents this combination round-table discussion and biographical sketch tackling the question "Does God exist?" To facilitate the discussion, two intellectual heavyweights square off, and their life's work is explored: representing the secular, the Materialism Masher: Sigmund "Will-Interpret-Your-Dreams-Then-Knock-You-Into-Dreamland" Freud; and in the other corner, representing Christianity, the Narnian Nullifier, C.S. "Screw-You-Freud-I've-Got-a-Movie-Coming-Out-in-December" Lewis.
Facts of the Case
The Question of God: Sigmund Freud & C.S. Lewis is patterned on a college course taught by Harvard University professor Armand Nicholi. The four-hour miniseries is set up like this: Dramatizations of Freud's and Lewis's lives, complete with interviews with experts and reenactments by Freud and Lewis impersonators, are intermingled with conversations facilitated by Nicholi himself that feature a bunch of smart people with varying opinions on religion and spirituality.
Dramatizations track both Lewis's and Freud's lives from early childhoods through adulthood to the point when they reached their intellectual pinnacles. Following a batch of these reenactments, Nicholi puts a question out the group and they chew it over. Rinse and repeat.
This is a very well-made, robust piece of PBS programming. At 225 minutes it's a commitment, but I was pleased to discover the feature was far from boring. Most of the credit for this is due to the excellent production values of the biographical segments. The segments are faithfully re-created, and the inclusion of the actors playing Freud and Lewis, divulging elements of their life and work in the authors' own words, adds nice depth to the storytelling. Both Freud and Lewis receive equal time, so there is never any sense of tilt or bias in the narrative. What's on display is their lives and their musings; the editorializing comes during the discussion portions of the program, which address the major issues that belief (or nonbelief) present: a human moral code, grief and suffering, and so on.
For me, these round-table conversations actually proved to be the least intriguing element of the program. I understand the point of their presence, and on paper I think it's a good idea, but what fell short for me was the participants themselves. Dr. Nicholi was a solid presence, and he would be someone I would like to take a class from—you know, after mortgaging my house and selling my spleen on the black market to pay for the tuition—but his participation was limited mainly to asking questions. Despite his presence, and a couple of guys with substantive ideas and questions—one the editor of the magazine Skeptic, the other a theist and Harvard scientist—the rest of the panel was composed of folks that I don't think I could spend 17 consecutive seconds with without nodding off and going to my happy place. Everyone was smart and all that, but it was the kind of smart that's pretentious and alienating. Basically, a lot of hot air about spirituality and naturalism and blah blah blah. (Of course there is the chance that I'm being a pretentious dingleberry for making fun of their pretentiousness.) I would have loved to see the inclusion of some "regular" blue-collar folks, and not just Jungian analysts and lawyers and dwellers of high academia.
The bottom line is that The Question of God: Sigmund Freud & C.S. Lewis is a very well-done program, effectively balancing the starkly contrasted beliefs of the two titular big shots. At the end of it all, of course, there is no answer to this greatest of questions, but the honest airing of the conflicting ideologies, which is in some part provided by a few intriguing people, is welcome.
This is a technically sound disc. The program is presented in a sharp 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. Details are vivid, and the color is rich, all bolstering the professional execution of the disc. A Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix is passable and effective enough, but heavy on the front speakers. Sadly, special features are nearly nonexistent. A downloadable discussion guide (in PDF format) is a nice bonus for the classroom or small group, but there's nothing else on the disc.
A lot of bang for your buck for you seekers of truth out there, The Question of God: Sigmund Freud & C.S. Lewis is a great piece of thought-provoking edu-tainment. Next up for PBS: Freud vs. Lewis in a no-holds-barred cage match!
Not guilty. Now go contemplate.
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