The Father, 2020.
Directed by Florian Zeller.
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Mark Gatiss, Olivia Williams, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell, and Ayesha Dharker.
A man refuses all assistance from his daughter as he ages. As he tries to make sense of his changing circumstances, he begins to doubt his loved ones, his own mind and even the fabric of his reality.
The Father wears its stageplay origins on its sleeves, still with room to remarkably function as a stylistically bleak cinematic journey into the mind like no other. Anthony Hopkins’s surefire Oscar-worthy performance just happens to be the cherry on top. Nevertheless, co-writer/Director Florian Zeller (adapting his own play alongside Christopher Hampton) is telling not so much a story about dementia but rather goes for a visceral and vicarious depiction of that, making for something wholly original and hauntingly beautiful with brilliantly edited (courtesy of Yorgos Lamprinos) together passages of time, repetition, physical locations, and lost memories of a now fragmented mind.
Somewhere north of 80, Anthony (Sir Anthony Hopkins, delivering one of the finest performances of his career, capable of breaking your heart from his lack of awareness and deeply confused expressions alone) insists he does not need a caretaker and that he is fine living alone in his flat. Meanwhile, his patient daughter Anne (Olivia Colman demonstrating an abundance of sympathy, care, and a collected demeanor despite being on the verge of losing her cool) explains that she is moving from London to Paris to live with her new partner and that a caretaker will be necessary as she won’t be around anymore.
Suddenly, there is no new partner, no plans of moving to Paris, and Anne already has a partner named Paul (Rufus Sewell). The setting has also changed from a flat to an expansive apartment. There is also a new nurse named Laura (Imogen Poots) up for the position that bears a resemblance to a daughter he no longer sees. Then there’s the fact that Anthony often doesn’t really know what’s going on, finding himself talking to hallucinated individuals such as Mark Gatiss’ The Man and Olivia Williams’ similarly named The Woman (who really just looks like a younger version of Anne). It’s also not easy for him or us to navigate what’s going on, as some scenes loop back into one another or cleverly veer into another point in time.
Anthony reacts like anyone with dementia would; he lashes out, rejects to do what’s asked of him, tells everyone to fuck off, and conveys petrified fear as he is unable to maintain a psychological sense of being. Just like Anthony’s mind, The Father is all over the place coming across as a horror movie in its deep-dive exploration of what it’s like to live with dementia. Generally, films focus on the reverse in how to care for someone suffering, and while The Father assuredly does also do some of that with Anne, it’s more concerned with laying out that fractured state of mind as Anthony lives from moment to moment, with plenty of moments lost in between.
It’s fair to say that The Father operates as a puzzle the viewer is consistently piecing together, which sounds like an approach that would end up a disrespectful mess in less capable hands. Thankfully, it’s not fun trying to understand the chronological order of these events and what’s really happening, as even when connecting the dots there is a devastating realization that the more this begins to make sense for us, Anthony is only going to continue getting worse. This has no happy ending for him; even if he does come to accept what’s going on he is bound to forget everything he processed by the next morning.
In between assessing past and present, there’s also a great number of instances where Anthony is allowed to show the charms of the man he once was, whether it’s whimsically busting out into tap dancing to impress his new nurse or relaxing listening to classical music. At one point, the CD malfunctions and begins to loop the same few seconds over and over, and there’s really no better metaphor for The Father. Some of us are going to become those CDs one day, and just like cleaning them off never really does much good if the scratches are indented in, there’s not much that can be done to cure a broken memory bank. The best-case scenario is that some of those scratches will be memories worth carrying until the end. As for movies, The Father is one to never forget.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com