Today: June 13, 2024

The Father

The thought of aging, of losing one’s mind, body or both is one that most put to one side. An inevitability that we’d rather not think about until it hits us square in the face, more often than not when dealing with a loved one rather than our own. The Father is a film that enters into the mind of someone losing theirs, a film that doesn’t just get into the protagonist’s head but into the viewer’s hearts, minds and souls. 

Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) is a man whose reality seems to be slipping. At one moment his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) is talking to him about moving to Paris, the next she’s refuting this claim while a man (Mark Gatiss), who Anthony has no recollection of, claims to be Anne’s husband. As locations, people and memory begin to swirl so Anthony’s tolerance to the world he lives in grows thin and soon both he and his loved ones are increasingly at their wits end. 

Adapting his own play Le Père, Florian Zeller makes his feature directorial debut and immediately marks himself out as one to watch. The Father is a film of staggering achievement. Easing you slowly into Anthony’s mental state while giving us glimpses into the fun-loving, cheeky chap he is, was or might have been.

It is this sense of disorientation that hooks you in. As if David Lynch has decided to make a film about Alzheimer’s disease. It has that ability to feel immersive, nightmarish and utterly confusing. But The Father is less harrowing than that sounds. Certainly less traumatic than Michael Haneke’s Amour but just as impactful in the way it addresses its core subject matter.

Zeller puts us in Anthony’s headspace of confusion, anger and a sense of betrayal and abandonment. It is often a hard watch but never one that feels gruelling, more honest and heartfelt. 

This heart comes from Best Actor winner for his performance; Anthony Hopkins. At one moment timid and isolated from the world around him the next hurt, regressing and achingly innocent. Hopkins brings so much range and gravity to the role the rest of the film falls perfectly in line around him. A star burning so bright you’re drawn to it completely. He is brilliantly supported by the likes of Olivia Williams, Rufus Sewell, Imgoen Poots and, in what is now almost expected, Colman. In many ways it could have been a double-header but it is to Colman’s credit she brings a sense of grounding to Anne, one that anchors us in the vortex of Anthony’s descent.

The Father is a deeply affecting, harrowing and beautifully told story that forces you to confront the trauma of the ageing process on both the aged and their loved ones.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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The Father

In 1991, Anthony Hopkins took home a well-deserved Best Actor Academy Award for his unforgettable performance in The Silence of the Lambs, despite only appearing in the film for 16 minutes. His latest film, The Father, sees him onscreen for nearly every minute of the 97 minute runtime – and with his impeccable performance, he has bagged another Oscar.

Based on the 2012 play Le Père and adapted for the screen by the playwright Florian Zeller, The Father is an incredibly powerful and ultimately devastating look at the effects of dementia. Taking place almost entirely within the confines of a city flat, Hopkins plays the titular father to Anne (Olivia Colman) as he clings onto his independence and refuses any form of living assistance as the gruelling disease slowly takes over his mind. 

The Father is being marketed as a film of two performances – Hopkins and Colman – and it’s true, they are both exceptional. Hopkins especially offers some of his finest work to date with a heart-breaking and compelling performance that it’s impossible to tear your eyes away from, portraying all of the confusion, vulnerability and irritation that comes with losing one’s grip on reality. 

Despite the masterful performances, the film’s highlight is its fascinating and ambitious narrative structure that offers an often frighteningly immersive journey into the father’s fractured and diseased psyche. Told almost entirely from his perplexed perspective, the non-linear narrative loops scenes, changes actors and shifts set design, much to his – and indeed our – confusion. The result is an incredibly creative and powerfully authentic film that will probably take a few viewings to fully put the pieces together. But then, isn’t that the point? The Father succeeds as a terrifyingly accurate account of what it must be like living with dementia – and the film is all the more devastating as a result. As Hopkins’ character becomes more and more lost, so too does the film. And it is masterfully portrayed.

Directed by playwright Zeller in his filmmaking debut, this adaptation of the fantastic text isn’t hugely inventive in its direction – the story’s roots on the stage are certainly evident in its blocking, alongside the small setting, limited characters and monologue-esque dialogue. But, on the whole, the film is still a masterclass thanks to the utterly flawless performances and truly innovative narrative structure that have us questioning what is real and what isn’t in every single scene. 

Feeling like something of a companion piece to the equally affecting Still Alice, The Father is a disorienting and devastating look at living with dementia; as the person afflicted, and as those caring for them. 

Samuel Love

Freelance writer. Email: samuel@smlcreative.co.uk

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