At first glance, a film like “The Father” could be overlooked simply as Oscar bait. With a poster that is simply a still from the film featuring the two main stars along with a bland trailer, the film seems as though it was designed solely to be nominated awards. This, however, is far from the truth.
“The Father” revolves around Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) as he struggles with dementia. His daughter Anne (Oscar winner Olivia Colman) attempts to help, hiring nurses and caretakers who all eventually leave after her father’s degrading and occasionally violent outbursts. All the while Anne is attempting to live her own life, wishing to move from London to Paris with her new boyfriend which would leave Anthony by himself. Anthony, however, cannot seem to grasp the fact that his daughter will be leaving him.
The audience experiences the effects dementia has on both Anthony and his daughter. At times Anthony forgets small things like turning down the radio all the way to not remembering that his youngest daughter, Lucy, died years prior in a car accident. This all makes “The Father” a heartbreaking story about family and love without sugarcoating anything.
Hopkins’ performance places these gut-wrenching scenes and the movie as a whole over the top. Following him for the entire runtime, Hopkins perfectly illustrates the distress an individual with dementia endures. He is able to tap into this mindset of someone dealing with memory loss, switching his mood instantly to change the direction of a scene.
An instance of this occurs early on in the film where Anthony misplaces his watch, even though it is always left in the same spot every morning. He accuses the caretaker of stealing the watch, though once Anne retrieves it, Hopkins deftly switches his emotions from distraught at the caretaker, relieved that it is found and almost instantly begins questioning if Anne hid the item from him to cause the initial confusion. This abrupt mood swing occurs in a matter of seconds, each showcased by Hopkins’ facial expressions and precise tone of voice. In a role like this, no one but Hopkins would be able to pull it off in such a beautiful yet haunting manner.
The appeal of “The Father” is not just in the acting, but also in the masterful filmmaking. Florian Zeller makes his first foray into filmmaking after an award-winning career in authoring novels and plays, bringing along many of his tricks he learned from the stage to the screen. All throughout the film, Zeller attempts to put the audience into Anthony’s shoes by confusing them. In some scenes, wallpapers will change colors in the background, props will move unexpectedly, and quick edits will switch from scene to scene with no explanation.
The most obvious of these effects occur when different actors step into the film to play characters that were previously established. Without a theater background, the execution of these tactics could seem gimmicky given the subject matter, but Zeller’s artistic spin takes what could have simply been a simple narrative about a man with memory loss into a truly moving film.
Being able to feel the confusion, anxiety and hopelessness that Anthony experiences throughout this ninety-minute venture leaves a lasting impact on the audience of how someone with dementia thinks and acts. The screenplay is told nonlinearly, leaving the audience to guess if events occurred in the past or present (or if they are even real). It’s a highly effective way to craft the story while causing the audience to mentally participate in the tale.
This all culminates into a powerful character study that will stay with audiences for the rest of their lives. The raw and honest way dementia is depicted by Hopkins in the film is the reason it will be regarded as his best performance (Yes, even better than his turn as Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs”). For a film that deals with forgetfulness, it is hard to ever forget or shake off the impact “The Father” will have for years to come.