Thursday, July 22, 2021

"The Father": review

Anthony Hopkins richly deserved the Best Actor Oscar he won, at age 83, for his role in "The Father," which is based on the French stage play "Le père," by Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton. Zeller directed the film (his first-ever cinematic effort). The 2020 production stars Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Rufus Sewell, Imogen Poots, Olivia Williams, and Mark Gatiss. It is filmed in such a way as to have the feel of a stage play, involving very few sets and very few people in any given scene. 

The story, which is about a man's deteriorating mental state as he succumbs to dementia, also has one major dramatic conceit: to give the audience an idea of what it feels like to be the central character (also named Anthony), we see different actors and actresses playing the same people—i.e., Olivia Colman and Olivia Williams both play Anthony's daughter Anne. Thus, we see Anthony looking at a completely different woman claiming to be his daughter, and we understand why he reacts as if she were a total stranger. Scarily, we come to realize that Anthony can no longer tell what's real. There are moments in the movie when the same dialogue repeats itself with different actors saying the lines, as if Anthony were caught in some kind of weird time-loop, and so we come to understand that Anthony cannot even feel the flow of time correctly. Is it morning? Is it evening? Why am I still in my pajamas if it's evening? Anthony cannot remember that his other daughter had been killed in an accident; he keeps wondering aloud as to why she hasn't visited in so long. Anthony also thinks he's in his own flat, but it seems he's been staying with his daughter (and with her maybe-husband—Anne's marital status is unclear) for months, now. Anthony has also made trouble for a series of caretakers, possibly even becoming physically threatening. All of this is forcing Anne's hand as she tries to decide what to do with her father.

"The Father" is less plot-oriented than it is character-oriented. The plot is, I suppose, rather simple. A man descends into dementia, and his daughter must decide whether to keep taking care of him in her home or to put him in an institution. That's the central dilemma for Anne. For Anthony, too, there's something of a character arc in that he begins the movie already in the grip of dementia, but still coherent enough to be in denial about his condition. Well, at least partially in denial: Anthony has moments of weakness during which he plaintively asks his daughter, "What's to become of me?" when he learns she plans to move to Paris to be with the man she loves. But by the end of the film, Anthony seems to realize that it's not reality that's acting "funny," as he puts it, but his own mind. "I don't know what's happening any more," he says tearfully toward the end of the film. It's a heartbreaking moment.

Kudos should also be given to the actors working around Hopkins. Both Olivia Colman and Olivia Williams do marvelous work, with Williams in various roles and Colman, normally known as a comic actress, delivering a soulful, dead-serious performance as the probably-real Anne. Rufus Sewell, of whom I'm a huge fan, is excellent as maybe-husband Paul, who may or may not exist; Mark Gatiss is just as good in his several roles, and Imogen Poots, despite her relative youth, plays the role of a maybe-caretaker with aplomb.

I found "The Father" thoroughly depressing. I went into the movie with the eager expectation of getting some insight into what's happening to President Joe Biden, for whom I have little sympathy. Instead, what I got was an empathetic film that shows what's going to happen to all of us who are lucky enough (or unlucky enough) to survive to old age. What "The Father" shows us is our eventual fate. At some point in the near or far future, assuming I don't die early and suddenly, I won't be coherent enough to continue writing reviews. Aging, and the attendant loss of independence, can be a sad thing, and this movie puts a painful spotlight on that situation. I recommend "The Father" for Anthony Hopkins's stand-out performance, but do go into the movie knowing you'll come out feeling shredded.

1 comment:

John Mac said...

Another great review!

I was also thinking about Biden, but yeah, dementia is scary stuff. Honestly, I have noticed some very small things in my life that could be indicators of bigger things to come. Maybe from the drinking, maybe an aging brain, or maybe both. I'm going to keep enjoying my life though as long as I am aware that I have one.