Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Father (2020): A Review


The Father is a quiet, moving film about one man's slow decay into dementia. It plays with the audience, perhaps a bit too cleverly, but with two standout performances The Father envelops you in its tale about the burden of mental disintegration for both the afflicted and those around them.

Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) is convinced that he does not need a caregiver, while his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) is. Anthony also won't leave his flat (apartment) and give up his independent retired life. It would mean not just losing his freedom but also the painting his other daughter Lucy made for him. He wishes Lucy, whom he openly prefers over the fussy Anne, would visit.

Things, however, soon start taking bizarre turns. Anthony sees strange men in his flat, both claiming to be Anne's husband Paul. He also briefly sees another woman as Anne, and while he likes Laura (Imogene Poots), she reminds me greatly of Lucy. The man who most of the time is Paul (Rufus Sewell) consistently urges Anne to put her father in a home, but Anne keeps resisting. 

Ultimately though, we find that the blending of reality and fiction gives us what perhaps we should already know: that Anthony's dementia is such that things are not as he thinks, and that while he knows the truth about everything things have gotten so muddled the various bits and pieces are melded into a tragic jumble.

The Father never completely loses its theatrical roots, though to his credit Florian Zeller never makes it look like a filmed play. Zeller, who wrote the play The Father is based on and cowrote the screenplay with Christopher Hampton, makes The Father a bit of a mystery by introducing these strange situations. Of particular note is when "The Man" (Mark Gatiss) appears, insisting that the flat is really his and his wife Anne's flat, not Anthony's. 

Other directors and adaptations might have played this for some kind of gimmick, a twist that makes things a bit opaque. Here however, it is the first hint that Anthony's dementia may be more pronounced than he or the audience is aware. It allows us to see things through his mind without having to delve into it or have outside explanations. Zeller manages the balance between the mystery and tragedy of Anthony's situation, making the final moments all the more emotionally impactful.

That impact is carried by the two main performances. For better or worse, once actors get to a certain age they find themselves playing people with diminishing capacities. Sometimes played for laughs, sometimes for tears, it seems almost inevitable for older actors to reflect the circumstances many in their age group face. Sir Anthony Hopkins at 83 has reached such an age, and his Anthony is a tour de force performance.

His Anthony is not dotty or funny, but a man attempting to make sense of a world that is slipping from his grasp. At times almost jolly (his impromptu tap dance almost makes one chuckle) at times terrifying (Paul slapping a terribly distressed Anthony), one just feels for this good, ordinary man who is aware of something amiss but cannot sort it out fully, even when the truth is quietly but firmly presented.

He is equaled by Colman as Anne, who with just a glance communicates the push-and-pull she faces. Whether it's enduring Anthony's casual comparisons to Lucy or Paul's more aggressive push to put her father away, Colman shows Anne's visible anxiety about the tough situation she faces with no real support.

As a side note, I figured what the truth about Lucy was, so it shouldn't be a surprise.

The other supporting cast of Poots, Sewell and Olivia Williams as "The Woman" whom Anthony sees as others also did fine work. If there is a flaw it is Gatiss, who didn't quite blend in as well and whose ultimate reveal didn't really suggest as to why he played that much of a role in Anthony's confused mind. The Father also has a strong, mournful Ludovico Einaudi score that while sparing adds to the tragic nature of the situation.

The Father is a fine film, showing the tragedy of dementia affects more than just the one afflicted with that. Again people might come away thinking the folding of truth and illusion may be playing fast and loose with things, and the film is not completely free of its stage roots. On the whole though, the well-acted and directed The Father moves well towards its inevitable and heartbreaking end. 

"Who exactly am I?", Anthony asks. It's a question that tears at him and the audience. It's easy to like Anthony and sympathize with Anne. It's a hard film to watch but a deeply moving one. 


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