As the years mount, we face the challenges of mental diminishment, and the invasive scourge of Dementia/Alzheimer’s. “The Father” posts these realities on the big screen with a feeling of love, hope, and yes, even with patches of light hearted humor.
Eighty-four-year-old Anthony Hopkins (awarded this year’s Best Actor Oscar for the role), leaves an imprint that validates his stature as a superior thespian. Anthony (his namesake character), refuses to accept the reality that at eighty, he’s losing his independence and has to rely on assistance from his daughter Anne, a situation triggering a down turn in the father/sibling relationship.
The film is adapted from a stage play written by Florian Zeller, winning major awards in Paris (2012), and followed with critical acclaim on Broadway and London’s West End. Zeller marks his feature film debut as director and as co-author of the screenplay.
The narrative’s emotional impact registered solidly with patrons at live theatre presentations which Zeller effectively repeats in his screen adaptation saying the audience should feel as if they are “groping their way through a labyrinth.”
A large measure is credited to the magnetic interpretation by Sir Anthony Hopkins of a proud senior with a strong mischievous I-will-not-be-told independent nature. His character is unable to comprehend what’s happening as his mental capacity suffers gradual decline. Loved ones are becoming strangers causing a breakdown of understanding between father and daughter. Anne (an artful performance by Academy Award winner Olivia Colman) has been looking after his personal needs, but due to her father’s increasing toxic cycles of paranoia, is forced to engage inhouse caregivers to assist in Anthony’s well-being. It’s a move he stubbornly rejects, causing a major fracas between them.
Anne’s personal life is at play in this Wagnerian opera. Planning to move to Paris with her partner, she faces a dilemma. Taking her vulnerable father along would be a burden on her lifestyle. Being her responsibility, Anne, feeling the drama of slowly losing him, is in essence being a parent to her own parent.
While dementia is a pivotal point in Zeller’s narrative, he also introduces a psychological horror element, thrusting the viewer into Anthony’s consciousness throughout the film so anything real can feel imagined. Sequences are distrupted, we see characters show up and leave without any reason. The viewer is disoriented, sensing similar confusion to the bouncing madness Anthony sees in his confused mental world.
Director Zeller’s point is to draw us into the story, using metaphysical elements for emphasis in exploring the frailties of being human, and the nature of our throw away existence. Anthony is engulfed by a kaleidoscopic turmoil of empathy, understanding, fear, and grief, in periods of what has been, what is now, and what conceivably will be. In a sense, viewers become immersed in Anthony’s agony. It’s sit back, relax, and enjoy, but let the mind loose to absorb the structure of the narrative and the juxta positioning of scenes that don’t necessarily follow a logical flow.
It’s most satisfying to enjoy an actor with the versatility to artistically adapt into wide ranging roles. Here, Hopkins gives a stirling and persuasive performance as a saddened, pathetic father who is vulnerable and disoriented. Check out his villainous character in the current television series “Westworld”. Then of course there’s his eerie, frightening portrayal of totally demented cannibalistic Hannibal Lecter in the memorable “The Silence of the Lambs”. Hopkins holds your attention……we’re entertained by his ability to make you see the character, instead of an actor’s impersonation.
Anthony Hopkins possesses star quality producers need to especially entice discriminating film audiences to serious dramas. Here The Knighted Actor has it. An overheard comment summarizes “The Father” as not being what was expected, “filled with sadness…..but so worth watching”.