To overly explain The Father is to take the joy of watching the film for the first time.
It starts in the more mundane and everyday moments of a day in the life of Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), an 80-year-old man in his apartment in London. But these small pleasures take on a life of their own as we learn that Anthony is an unreliable old man succumbing to dementia before our very own eyes.
Adapted and directed by stage writer Florian Zeller, the film does the miraculous thing of taking us into the mind of a man whose memory is no longer serving him as needed. We are confused as he is as we juggle the people in his life and also provide some context to how his own feelings played against these changing backdrops. We don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong, yet we feel overall dread of the situation.
As Anthony, Hopkins demonstrates why he is one of the best actors of the last century, navigating this confusing world and playing up both the charisma and anger of a man losing his mind. But it’s not until the film’s final moments that he gives his true tour de force performance, with a soft and emotional breakdown that feels familiar to those of us with whom dementia has touched our lives.
His daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) is the kind and selfless figure in his life who tries to help her father when possible and live her own life. We can feel her inner life crumbling as she balances her family and personal life. Whether it’s her smile or her tears, her performance is relatable and authentic, often the emotional touchpoint for us to experience this ailing man’s life falling apart.
Conversations move in circles and items are moved back and forth. Even characters chance faces and sceneries change. We become disoriented as Anthony does too, but it doesn’t feel gimmicky, instead is a reflection of the changing happening within his mind. We don’t just see as he sees, we feel and live as he does too. This is upheld by the excellent work of production design, costume design and editing, who embolden the story and feed into the story in both a compelling and confusing way.
No other film has succeeded so in taking an illness and taking us through the motions in a way that feels truly genuine. Surrealism and memory loss has a place in Hollywood films, yet here we have this true insight into home and family in a way that is unsettling and too real for so many people. In that regard, it’s a tool and provide some consolation for those in similar situations or reflect reality for those who have avoided its real-life effects.