The Father is a film adaptation of a play with the same name written by Florian Zeller. In his directorial debut, Zeller tells the story of a dementia patient, Anthony, as he becomes aware of his loss of memory and alienation with the surrounding world. More than a story, The Father is a full-on experience of what it feels like to live in an unstable world like Anthony’s right from his perspective.
The first scenes show an encounter with his daughter, Anne, visiting him to let him know she’s moving to Paris with her new lover. This information is later contradicted by a conversation where Anne explains she is living in the same flat as Anthony and her husband of 10 years, Paul. From this moment onwards, as an audience, we realise something in the storyline is off and we start to question as an audience whether this confusion is a result of a shuffle in the timeline of memories or whether Anthony is fantasizing. There is no point in the psychological thriller where the audience feels truly convinced that what’s going on is completely true because of the constant confusion through the main characters eyes.
The Father is a full-on experience of what it feels like to live in an unstable world like Anthony’s right from his perspective.
Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) reveals he has two daughters; Anne (Olivia Colman) and Lucy. One of the themes explored is the daughter-parent dynamic between Anne and Anthony, a loving relationship where the care of a dementia patient causes conflicts in her personal relationships. Zeller shines a light on the thousands of cases in the real world where the children end up taking care of their parents by taking them into their home and having to look after them. We don’t see their childhood or upbringing but it is clear that there is a background story with the youngest sibling, Lucy, that is later on revealed to the surprise of the audience. Overall, this film tackles a very common struggle for millions of families that might hit too close home, which makes it so special and raw to watch.
Additionally, I believe it is important to mention the incredible work done by the costume and set designers in this film. Despite the fact that most of the story occurs in a flat, there are sudden changes in every scene to make sure the audience is immersed in the experience Anthony is undergoing. For instance, the walls at times change colour, the paintings on the wall change as well as their positions on the flat. These small subtle changes add to the understanding of the confusion the main character is going through. The use of same clothing in different scenes tricks us into joining moments that actually don’t go together subsequently in time.
Similarly, the talent of every actor in the cast is extraordinary, especially Anthony Hopkins. It is absolutely no surprise that he won the 2021 Best Actor Oscar, as he remarkably brings the torturous experience of dementia to the screen. For this feature to be credible it relied very heavily on the ability of the main character to be credible, and from my point of view Hopkins elevates the film and makes it heart-breaking to watch.
Overall, I doubt this film is one you can watch more than once because of the deep and overwhelming impact it has on you. It will definitely feel like a scary movie at times, but not because of jump cares, rather because it depicts one of our worst fears: not being able to trust your own mind.