Many of us have already dealt with the painful result of a parent or loved one who has dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease; many more of us will have to face this reality in the years ahead. Playwright Florian Zeller puts us inside the mind of an aging man who is caught in the grip of this unforgiving condition. The result is disorienting and it all rings true. For that reason I find it hard to say I liked or enjoyed The Father, although I respect and admire it.
That the man in question is played by the great Anthony Hopkins raises the stakes even higher. In the film’s establishing scenes he tries to bluff his way through an embarrassing slip of memory, causing grief to his loyal, loving daughter (Olivia Colman), who must decide what to do about him living on his own in his London flat.
Colman is easy to relate to. She is in the unfortunate position where many of us find ourselves: wanting to do what’s best for our parent without completely sacrificing our own needs. Guilt is a powerful motivator but sometimes it’s blown out of proportion: why should a child feel guilty if he or she has already done everything possible for the sake of the parent? And what if the parent is truly unable to function without full-time care?
Playwright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons, Atonement, A Dangerous Mind) has helped Zeller “open up” the stage presentation in natural and organic fashion. We never feel as if we’ve been let outdoors or introduced to new characters for arbitrary reasons. And though the magic of film, Zeller—earning his first credential as a feature-film director—can achieve effects one couldn’t on stage, unpredictably shifting his protagonist’s point of view.
Much of The Father is understated until the final scenes, which call on Hopkins to jettison the façade he has maintained all along. I can’t and won’t describe what occurs, except to say that it is highly emotional and beautifully rendered. Everyone in the cast pulls his or her weight, including Olivia Colman, Olivia Williams, Rufus Sewell, Mark Gatiss and Imogen Poots…but when all is said and done it’s Anthony Hopkins who makes this film worth seeing. He sears his performance into our consciousness, never to be forgotten.
The Father is currently playing in theaters and available on premium VOD.