Florian Zeller’s The Father is a fiendishly clever and powerfully affecting dementia drama
When The Academy chose to make the 2021 Oscars so heavily about the late, great Chadwick Boseman they clearly weren’t betting on veteran, classically trained Sir Anthony Hopkins snatching the Best Actor trophy (and I can’t really blame them – I too predicted a Boseman victory in my 2021 Oscar predictions!) The overshadowing disapproval that followed the staging of the ceremony, combined with the Welshman’s low key, day late acceptance speech meant that the larger public may risk overlooking the work he has been awarded for, but to do so would be a crying shame.
With The Father French writer/director Florian Zeller adapts his own original stage play to create a deceptively simple yet intricately crafted drama. The most effective film about dementia since Michael Haneke’s gut wrenchingly sombre Amour, this is a very special piece of work.
Hopkins stars as Anthony, a North London octogenarian who is struggling to accept his declining independence in the face of advancing dementia. His daughter Anne (a terrifically worn down Olivia Colman) battles to get him to accept outside help ahead of her plans to move to Paris with her new partner and leave him alone, though Anthony continues to scare away every carer she hires and resolutely refuses to move out of his apartment.
As the film progresses the viewer is slowly sucked in to Anthony’s mental decline as periods of lucidity are mixed in with old memories and twisted realities. Clever cast changes are used to illustrate the fact that he is starting to struggle to recognise his loved ones and to place himself and his daughter in the right time period. Ingenious production design uses a subtle, slowly changing set to create an uncertainty about his surroundings – without giving too much away, by the time you start to realise that something feels ”off” about Anthony’s flat you’ll be feeling as unsettled as the man himself.
Anthony Hopkins is simply incredible. Whilst Hannibal Lector may be his most iconic role, I truly believe that Hopkins work in The Father is his best in a very long and distinguished career. Capturing the mercurial nature of a dementia sufferer flawlessly, his mood swings are perfectly pitched and painful to behold. At times the consummate charmer he tells jokes and amuses his guests by tapdancing across his apartment. Yet within the blink of an eye he can be a bristling ball of rage, snarling at his caregivers in scenes that are sure to shake any viewer who has had to witness dementia in their own loved ones.
More distressing yet is the way in which he portrays the abject terror and confusion that comes alongside his condition. As people and places change around him, his sense of self and safety are eroded and nothing makes sense anymore. Anthony becomes increasingly lost and helpless, with all that previous hostility doing nothing to protect him. A crushingly sad scene in which he mentally regresses to a young child trapped in the body of an elderly man in surely the one that snatched Hopkins the Oscar and his raw, innocent emotion sticks in the mind long after the credits roll.
A stripped back yet sophisticated drama that succeeds spectacularly off the back of the intimate and honest performances of it’s two stars, The Father is realistic to the point of trauma. Plunging the audience directly in to the heart of the experience of a dementia sufferer, this is brilliant, disturbing film making that feels so much greater than fiction.
The Father is released in the UK on the 11th June 2021 in cinemas and all the usual online marketplaces