The Father (2020)

"Saw it in his eyes. He didn’t know who I was. It was like I was a stranger to him. It just did something to me.”"Saw it in his eyes. He didn’t know who I was. It was like I was a stranger to him. It just did something to me.”

“Saw it in his eyes. He didn’t know who I was. It was like I was a stranger to him. It just did something to me.”

Aging is a part of life, its natural, its unavoidable and inevitable. Some of us remain healthy while some of us get sick. Getting sick is never easy – on the person experiencing the illness and the ones caring for them. The Father, co-written and directed by Florian Zeller shows just how heavy the burden is to carry for caring and assisting someone who gets dementia. Several moments and items are captured to reflect the heartbreaking disease. A watch, a painting, a chicken dinner, a daughter, moving to Paris where they don’t speak english, and a caregiver each have a significant meaning to Anthony’s (Anthony Hopkins) fleeting memory.

Nothing is as it seems. We see certain events play out from the distracted, disoriented and frustrating deteriorating mind of Anthony as he attempts to piece together lucid memories. That’s only one of the points of view presented by Zeller – the other point of view is from Anthony’s daughter Anne (Olivia Coleman) where the picture is a lot clearer, and events make more sense. Seeing things from both characters is jarring and questionable as to what is actually real and what is smoke and mirrors. With no reference to the time (other than from Anthony as he fiddles with his wrist checking for his watch) it’s difficult to gauge what actually happened.

That’s the point, isn’t it? We are put in Anthony’s shoes as the viewer to see how he would react to say Anne moving to Paris or his daughter Lucy (Imogen Poots) passing away. Hopkins brilliance as an actor takes control here – he’s able to switch personality and emotions effortlessly. From light and comedic (recounting his past career as a dancer) to dark and angry (accusing his former caretaker of stealing his watch), Hopkins’ performance is unforgettable and breathtakingly heartbreaking. Being able to view the world from his eyes allows the viewer to be even more sympathetic to those with the disease. You have to tread carefully with everything you say or do, and Zeller captures this emotion so well. 

“Why do you keep looking as if there’s something wrong? Everything is fine.”

The Father is based on Zeller’s stage play in which he wrote titled Le Père. Zeller constructs his screenplay co-written by Christopher Hampton to give the theater production feeling to the screen. Just like with Last fall’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, each scene emits a stage production quality to it. A handful of carefully put together sets the production design stands out just as much as the performances. Production designer Peter Francis pulls off an incredible feat of scenes where nothing inside Anne’s flat (Anthony’s if you ask him) is quite the same. What Anthony may see may be completely wrong or imaginary. The changes are subtle but are easily picked up upon once the realization of the perspective is made known. 

To keep up the illusion of the set design consistently changing and adapting to fit the mind of Anthony and what is reality is the editing by Yorgos Lamprinos. Its utterly disorienting being trapped in a mind that just can’t remember or grasp certain moments. Its frustrating but its captured beautifully. The timeline of events is reminiscent of I’m Thinking of Ending Things where majority of Charlie Kaufman’s film is left up to interpretation and The Father is similar to a degree. The difference here is the actuality of events taking place. Even if Anthony is struggling to remember who Paul (Rufus Sewell, Mark Gatiss) is or what day Laura (Imogen Poots) is scheduled to start everything can be corroborated by Anne as fact. 

“I don’t need her or anyone else. I can manage very well on my own. I don’t need any help.”

Hopkins isn’t the only one who gives such an outstanding performance. Olivia Coleman matches Hopkins by carrying much of the burden on her shoulders that accumulates from caring for a loved one with dementia. Her facial expressions whenever she has to repeat herself when Anthony isn’t grasping the information is heartbreaking. At least everyone knows someone who has delt with a loved one suffering with dementia – her performance is powerful enough where it cannot be overshadowed. 

Tying all of these elements together is Zeller’s careful direction. Each scene is constructed to feel like a memory and Florian’s vision gets the best out of Hopkins and Coleman. Both have great chemistry together that comes to life off the screen. Both fully become their character in a way never thought possible.

With outstanding lead performances, production design, editing and direction, The Father is an easy contender for this upcoming awards season. It’s a film that shouldn’t be missed because of how smoothly Florian Zeller pulls everything off. Hopkins and Coleman are easy frontrunners for their respective academy award categories. 5 out of 5. 

So, tell me, have you seen The Father and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think. 

The Father is written by Florian Zeller & Christopher Hampton, directed by Florian Zeller, Rated R and has a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. The Father premiered at Sundance on January 27, 2020, released in theaters on February 26, 2021 and on streaming on March 25, 2021 and has a runtime of 1 hour and 32 minutes. The Father can be seen in theaters or bought by online retailers including iTunes, Amazon & Google.

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