The Father

The Father ★★★★★

We often get films that have the audience be a proverbial fly on the wall, observing and soaking in the action of a film. Yet, I think film can really be a transcendent medium when it puts us into the mind of another. It is something incredibly difficult to do, but when it is done well it remains a truly special experience. It makes the viewer sympathetic to other viewpoints or opens our eyes to the quiet suffering behind a human face. The Father may be one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of the latter.
The Father is a very simple story. We follow Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) who is suffering from dementia. He is cared for by his daughter Anne (Olivia Coleman) who is struggling with trying to balance her own life and caring for her rapidly deteriorating father. The film is more focused on putting us into the mind of Anthony however as the audience gets a devastating look inside the mind of someone with dementia.
I cannot understate how effective this choice is. We don’t see the struggle through a mentally stable lens. We see it through Anthony’s eyes. We (the audience) begin to question our own sanity almost from the start. Events seem to repeat themselves, different actors are brought in to play the same person, and the setting subtly changes throughout the film. Even though we do not view the narrative from Anthony’s eyes we do experience the confusion and fear with him as we slowly lose our understanding of our own existence. Just like Anthony, we never know who is who or what day it is. It’s a devastating experience, but one that makes me more sympathetic to those with dementia than I had ever thought possible.
This film is masterfully edited. The best editing I've seen all year. This film would simply not work without the aforementioned gimmick and Yorgos Lamprinos did a fantastic job with creating something masterful out of confusion and chaos. I was also a bit shocked to see the film get a Production Design nomination at the Oscars. With it being set in one apartment location for most of the film, I was confused. Yet after watching the film, it is some of the sneakiest production design of last year, essentially crafting two different flats and blending them together like an artist does watercolors. It is by no means glamorous or in your face. Yet, the subtle changes like a chair or a missing picture all serve to enhance the overall experience.
It also simply wouldn’t be as effective of a film without Hopkins, who gives arguably his best performance ever. Director Florian Zeller only intended to make the film with Hopkins in the lead role and I can see why. Even in his Eighties, Hopkins is still an acting powerhouse. Everything from his stoic glance to his “tap dancing skills” feed into the heartbreaking experience. You can see the fear and pain in his performance, not just in the tears shed in the last scene, but as he walks throughout his apartment, not recognizing the people around him or having any spatial or timely awareness of changes in his life. I really can’t understate how effective this film is, and it’s thanks to the performances of Hopkins and Coleman who I haven’t even discussed, but she does carry the weight of the film just like she carries the burden of having to decide between her life and her fathers.
It’s a tough sell to recommend this film to people. It’s not an easy watch but it is a devastatingly impactful and insightful film experience that will challenge your perception of space and time, and maybe even make you a more sympathetic person after just 90 short minutes. Watch this film. It won’t be easy but it may be the most profound film you’ve ever seen.