“I saw it in his eyes — didn’t know who I was. It was like I was a stranger to him.”
There’s something incredibly compelling about a story revolving around someone with dementia. The sadness, frustration, and anger that comes with someone whose mind is slowly betraying them. Still Alice and The Notebook have touched upon this, but the audience views the illness from an outsider’s perspective — sympathetically looking at our main character as he or she struggles with the basic functions of life. But The Father, in its masterful storytelling, is vastly different from the films that have come before it.
The Father’s piercing narrative will echo throughout your mind long after you view it. The film, based on Florian Zeller’s play, follows Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), an aging man dealing with early onset dementia. The beginning of the film gives us only glimpses into his mind, but as the film progresses, he falls deeper down a hole for which he can’t escape. Anthony’s middle-aged daughter, Anne (Olivia Colman), continues to look in on him, eventually living with him, putting her own personal life on the backburner. This causes her husband Paul (Rufus Sewell) to be at a breaking point with the situations, becoming condescending to Anthony’s riddled mind. Paul and Anne go in and out of the story — mere pawns in Anthony’s world of confusion — never fully making sense.
That simple synopsis of The Father would be generic by any use of the word. If that were it, it may be good, but it wouldn’t be the resonating film I’m talking about today. What makes The Father so much of a gut-punch is its script, direction, and the beautiful detail in the set design. Moment by moment we are traveling in this story through Anthony’s eyes. His confusion is our confusion as the scenes begin to repeat. The chandeliers hanging from the ceiling are different. The color on the walls goes from beige to blue. The extreme differences weigh on our thoughts as we begin to question our own attention to detail. Did we miss something? Who is this person? Is this Anne? Wait, where did Paris come into the conversation? There is no moment of clarity as helplessness fills your body. This, among other things, leads us to connect to Anthony in a profound way.
The film is beautifully done, handled with the gentlest of care from director Florian Zeller. It is believed that Zeller wrote this play as tribute to his grandmother who he saw go through the stages of dementia. The deeply personal story goes hand and hand with the amazing performances. I don’t need to deconstruct Anthony Hopkins’ performance to convey to you how thought-provoking it is. You know when you see one of his films, it’s going to be great. This may be Hopkins’ best performance since Silence of the Lambs. There’s no question about Hopkins’ ability to give himself 100% to a role. But the pain and anguish that comes from Anthony’s inability to process the things around him, takes the film to a whole new level.
Most people may classify Olivia Colman as playing second fiddle to someone as established as Hopkins. However, Colman, in her branching out to more dramatic roles, has begun to solidify herself as one of the best actresses of the current era. Her emotion, whether it be frustration or sadness, comes across perfectly as your heart goes out to someone who is as caring as Anne. These two Hollywood heavyweights, no doubt, give two of the best performances of the year.
I didn’t know what to expect from the word of mouth that began to circulate with The Father. I have immense respect for Hopkins work, and I absolutely adore Colman. I just knew I had to see it. But the film that enfolded before me, well, I would never have expected that. The Father cannot simply be viewed. It must be experienced.
Directed by: Florian Zeller
Written by: Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Rufus Sewell, Imogen Poots, Mark Gatiss, and Olivia Williams