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.