2021, PG-13, 97 mins.
Anthony Hopkins as Anthony / Olivia Colman as Anne / Mark Gatiss as The Man / Olivia Williams as The Woman / Imogen Poots as Laura / Rufus Sewell as Paul / Ayesha Dharker as Dr SaraiDirected by Florian Zeller / Written by Zeller and Christopher Hampton, based on Zeller's play
Florian Zeller's THE FATHER - adapted to the screen from his own critically acclaimed 2012 play LE PERE - is the third drama in this very young year alongside FALLING and SUPERNOVA that has tackled families desperately struggling to deal with loved ones facing crippling dementia, but this one is undeniably the most unflinchingly raw, intimate, and powerfully told.
Not to take any
credit away from the other two routinely fine films, but THE FATHER
manages to do something with its material that helps segregate well apart
from this year's pack: It's really a ground zero, so to speak, portrayal
of the debilitating disease and is told primarily from the perspective of
the sufferer. SUPERNOVA and FALLING primarily chronicled how dementia
deeply affected the caregivers, whereas THE FATHER unnervingly relays what
it's really like for the afflicted. This
makes for a very difficult watch, and the film goes down some dark and
disturbing tangents, but Zeller masterfully quarterbacks everything with a
keenly sensitive and compassionate eye.
The core set-up
here is deceptively simple, but as it progresses the narrative becomes
almost labyrinthine in its depths and complexities. Very
early on we meet the suffering party in question in Anthony (Anthony
Hopkins), who's at the winter of his life and outwardly appears relatively
healthy and productive, but deep down his memory is a fragmented cesspool,
leaving him pathetically trying to form coherent thoughts.
Initially at least, Anthony appears to be a man of wealth and
privilege, but seems all alone and fears that his one surviving daughter,
Anne (Olivia Colman), is about to abandon him forever by her recent reveal
that she plans to move from England to France to be with her new
boyfriend. Even though she
reassures her father that she will visit frequently, Anthony feels utterly
betrayed. Anne does have a
plan for her dear old dad, though, and hires a young nurse named Laura
(Imogen Poots) to tend to Anthony's every need while she's away, and at
first things appear to go well between the pair, with Laura finding
Anthony to be eccentrically charming.
things start going south for poor Anthony rather fast.
shows up, but in a different physical form (played by Olivia Williams),
and later Anthony meets not one, but two different versions of her
husband-to-be (played by Mark Gatsis and Rufus Sewell respectively).
Now, how could this be? How
could Olivia materialize into two different forms before Anthony's eyes?
And why is one of them saying that she's heading out to Paris,
whereas the other one isn't and wants to put him into a long term care
home? Moreover, why
does time seem to rebound back on itself for poor Anthony?
He appears to be partaking in the same conversations multiple times
over. That, and his lavish
apartment seems to be altering and transforming before his eyes.
Is Anthony going crazy...or is he sane and there's a larger
conspiracy afloat that's severely messing with his already fragile well
dementia at such an irreparable phase that he can't disseminate what's
happening around him on a daily basis?
clearly steers towards the latter, and one of the bravura creative choices
that Zeller makes here is in his meticulous spatial choreography utilized
throughout the film. This is
not a modestly shot stage play turned into film.
Zeller uses everything at his directorial disposal - production
design, art direction, sound editing, camera movement, sneaky editing,
and, yes, multiple actors playing the same role - to provide a portal into
Anthony's tormented and ravaged mind. As one scene progresses to the next and reality seems to
segue into one alternate form of reality after another, Zeller is able to
find a thankless manner of visualizing the inherent internal chaos of a
dementia sufferer. Watching
Anthony appear lucid and put together in one moment only then to quickly
witness the rug being pulled out from under him without any rhyme, reason,
or logic becomes pretty haunting. THE FATHER is more about asking viewers
to become active participants in feeling Anthony's sickness as opposed to
just passively watching it and seeing how it affects those around him.
And as confusion begins to take a stranglehold of Anthony he grows
more and more paranoid about everyone and everything around him, and
there's no possible manner of reasoning with him.
THE FATHER becomes a slow burn journey into the helpless cerebral
abyss for its lead character.
It has become
hard to continually come up with more superlatives to describe Hopkins as
an actor, and his iconic and legendary status in the industry hardly needs
embellishment by me considering the litany of magnificent performances
that he has given for decades. But
the acclaimed 83-year-old thespian manages to dig deep and find heart
wrenching depths of pure despair for his portrayal of this sick and
disillusioned elderly man. He has to suggest in Anthony a man that's a million miles
removed from the one he once was a long time ago, and he does so be
evoking this man's anger, frustration, fragility, and absolute
bewilderment with what's transpiring to him.
In many respects, the central plight of a dementia sufferer is the
notion of being constantly informed that your perception of reality is
untrue. And it certainly
makes for traumatizing viewing to see this unfixable situation get worse
and worse...and with no hope for improvement in sight.
Hopkins has arguably never been so emotionally wounded and soul
crushingly vulnerable in a film before, and he most assuredly deserved his
recent Oscar nomination (making him the oldest Best Actor nominee ever).
He's also flanked by the equally impressive work by his supporting
cast, in particular Colman, who has a very tricky acting challenge here of
playing this daughter as one that has to be a calm and collected voice of
reason for her sick dad, but inwardly is having her own sanity checked
daily by his worsening condition.