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.
Adapted from his stage play, Florian Zeller’s ‘The Father’ is a moving dramatisation of one elderly man’s experience of suffering from dementia. That man is Anthony, played by Anthony Hopkins, and the film follows him around his flat as he tries to make sense of his surroundings and the people he interacts with on a daily basis. His daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) is a regular visitor and has been trying to get him to accept additional care for some time, something as a stubborn old man he is unwilling to do. The film attempts to provide a unique perspective on dementia, putting the audience into Anthony’s head and trying to show the audience how he experiences the world, and I thought it was a cleverly made and engaging piece of filmmaking.
I must confess that I found the first part of the film a little hard going, struggling to keep up with the rhythm, but it becomes clear that this is part of the film’s point – the mind of a dementia sufferer does not work logically and the confusing elements are designed with a purpose. This could be quite a challenging watch as a result, but the performances are so, so good, possibly the best of the awards nominated movies I’ve seen, with Anthony Hopkins approaching career best material in the leading role. His portrayal of Anthony is heartbreaking to watch, particularly in the final third when the movie starts to provide some answers to what is real and what is a symptom of his illness, and it is hard not to hold back the tears as it heads towards a conclusion. The supporting performances are all strong, with Olivia Colman the obvious standout as his daughter in another nominated turn.
I liked that the film was bold enough to not make him entirely sympathetic – he’s often abrasive, grumpy and manipulative, and it doesn’t entirely explain this away as a result of dementia. What it does do though is show how these behaviours or traits can be heightened by the frustration that comes with this disease, and anyone who’s had the misfortune of seeing a loved one go through similar will recognise aspects that ‘The Father’ covers. You can tell the film was created for the stage through its limited setting and small cast but I do think director Zeller (who has transitioned his own play from stage to screen) takes advantage of the cinematic experience to make the film as intimate as possible, with the use of close ups effectively used to draw us into Anthony’s headspace.
‘The Father’ places us in the mind of a man who is losing his, and whilst it is often upsetting and difficult to watch, I found it to be a terrifically well-acted and compellingly crafted drama.
Directed By: Florian Zeller
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell, Olivia Williams and Mark Gatiss