When highlighting the devastating effects of dementia, most movies will show the change in behaviour the condition brings with it, how it affects the daily life of those that are experiencing it, not to mention the heartbreaking impact on their loved ones. In the case of The Father, we as the viewer are left feeling almost as confused and disorientated as the man losing both his mind and his grip on reality. I came away feeling absolutely heartbroken and terrified, and with an even deeper respect for the legend that is Sir Anthony Hopkins.
Relaxing in a chair in a large cosy flat, Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) is listening to music on headphones when his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) arrives. She questions him about the latest carer that her cantankerous father has managed to scare off with accusations of stealing his watch, a watch that Anthony himself had actually hidden away safely and completely forgotten about. Anne has also come to break the news to her father that she will be moving to Paris to be with the man she loves, news which is obviously upsetting for Anthony. “What’s going to become of me?” he asks.
As Anthony walks into the living room, he sees a man he doesn’t recognise sitting reading a newspaper (Mark Gatiss). Anthony asks who he is and what he’s doing in his flat, and the man informs him that he is Anne’s husband and that this is his flat in which they all live together. As Anthony becomes confused and agitated, the man telephones Anne, who is now at the local shop, and when she arrives at the flat she is now a completely different woman (played this time by Olivia Williams). Anne reassures her father that she was only out buying some chicken for their dinner and when Anthony mentions seeing her husband in the flat, Anne appears confused, telling him that he must be mistaken as she got divorced five years earlier. And that chicken he thought Anne had bought for dinner? Well, that didn’t happen either!
These shifts in reality are as disorientating for us as they are for Anthony. Just as he must learn to adapt to the situation and move on as best he can, so must we as the viewer. It’s a strange and frustrating experience (which is the whole idea) that gets worse before it gets better (for us, not for Anthony). Just as we feel comfortable with a scene and the direction it seems to be headed, the rug is swiftly pulled out from beneath us. Simple changes in the decor and arrangement of the flat, the feeling that a conversation has already played out before with a different set of people, or that you are now watching the beginning of a conversation you joined halfway through earlier on all feel so real but end up merely adding to the confusion. And how many times exactly have they had chicken for dinner?!
The Father comes from French playwright and novelist Florian Zeller, based on his 2014 play and marking his debut as a feature-film director. With its minimal setting and cast, you can easily see how well this would have worked as a play and thankfully the movie version retains its simplistic storytelling without resorting to any big-budget effects or extravagance. The power of The Father comes from not only distorting the facts we already know but in its delivery by such an incredible cast. Olivia Colman is brilliant as always but it’s Sir Anthony Hopkins that takes it to another level. We get to experience the full range of his emotions, empathising with him and those around him throughout. We do eventually begin to understand the origins of some of the shifts in reality, even though he cannot, and it is heartbreaking powerful stuff.
See all photos >>