How does a movie effectively manage to convey the feeling of dementia? Often, cinema utilizes the impact dementia has on relatives to tell its story. The Father, on the other hand, does its best to put you in the debilitated individual’s shoes. It makes for a rather artful approach, utilizing a lot of film tools to simulate the experience. It also makes for a fairly hard experience to sit through, since this is going to hit close to home for many. Luckily, while it could easily have come across as clinical or even tragedy porn, this is an artistic heartbreaker. With grade A acting and some creative filmmaking, you’ll be enjoyed, regardless of whether you cry or not.
The Father mainly is a vehicle for a performance from Anthony Hopkins for the ages. The directorial choices, to be discussed more below, support Hopkins, but he is staggeringly good here. We’ll get into the details shortly, but suffice it to say, between this and The Two Popes, Hopkins is having a late-career moment. On stage, Frank Langella won a Tony Award for this role. Now, Hopkins is deep in contention for an Academy Award, and rightly so.
Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) is getting older, and dementia is beginning to take its toll. His daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) is desperate to find a caregiver for him, but he’s refusing all help. At 80 years old, he’s set in his ways, stubborn to the point that she’s losing patience with him. Anne is moving to Paris soon, though, so this needs to happen. In her mind, Anthony is just too prideful and dismissive of his condition to allow anything of the sort. However, something different is going on in his head, since time and location is floating in and out for him. To boot, Anne sometimes appears to be another woman (Olivia Williams).
The more we see of Anthony, the more we realize how hard it is for him to get a handle on his situation. He may be fully lucid in one room, but when he moves to another, it’s as if he’s in a whole other home, at some point in the past or future. As he deals with the condition, Anne sees some potential in Laura (Imogen Poots) as a caregiver for her father. Then again, maybe she just wants to find a solution and be able to live her life?
Anthony Hopkins is as good as he’s ever been here. In fact, after The Silence of the Lambs, there’s a compelling case to be made that this is his career best work. In nearly every scene of the film, he’s our anchor. While Olivia Colman comes in clutch as the beleaguered heart of the movie, Hopkins is its soul. Their interactions, especially as Colman is trying to handle Hopkins, are trying yet deeply effective. Her expressions are quietly devastating, while the gamut of emotions he goes through is wrenching. The moments of lucidity are filled with charm, vim, and vigor, while the disorientation is visceral in its debilitating quality. Supporting players like Mark Gatiss, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell, and Olivia Williams are solid, but this is the Colman and especially Hopkins show.
Filmmaker Florian Zeller, adapting his own play to the screen, finds creative ways to make this all cinematic. The script adaptation, written with Christopher Hampton, provides the cast with strong material, while Zeller’s direction is deeply creative. Utilizing clever production design and timely editing, he’s able to make the audience enter Anthony’s headspace. The Father lives and dies on that quality. Now, a bit of repetition does set in, and the flick can’t quite stick the landing, but these are small issues. This is largely an emotional success.
The Father is going to be an Oscar player, it’s just a question of to what degree. Now, it’s going to be a tough watch for some, but if you can handle it, you’re in for a treat. Florian Zeller has a future behind the camera, if he wants it. Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins are in stellar form too, likely headed towards at the very least nominations from the Academy. Give the film a shot and you’ll be able to quickly understand why.