In Florian Zeller’s “The Father”, Anthony Hopkins undresses before us. His elegance is ripped off by confusion and his energy is replaced by despair. We see a vulnerable man, a charming tap dancer and a weeping mess. He is playing an 80-year-old man with dementia. And it’s not pretty.
Anthony (Hopkins) recently chased off his caretaker. He argues with his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) that the caretaker stole his watch, which minutes later is found in its usual holding place. He’s quickly forgetting names, events and facts. Anthony’s grip on reality is slowly fading away and we, as audiences, will experience this tragic development alongside him.
Adapted from Zeller’s own play, this exceptional film is a study of the horrific struggles of dementia through the eyes of the person with the condition. It’s a rising nightmare, exquisitely structured, staged and performed.
Zeller’s unravelling of the narrative is assured and stunning. He depicts the horror of dementia by constructing a maze that gradually blurs the lines between reality and fiction. Anthony hears things from his daughter that she later denies; he doesn’t recognize certain people and constantly forgets about the fate of his other daughter. What is real? Is his daughter married? Is he living in his own flat or is this Anne’s place? Where is his damn watch? “The Father” is a labyrinth that defies your perception and keeps you on your toes.
The film also finds time to explore how dementia affects those around it. Anne struggles to maintain afloat in her personal life. She watches the happy neighbors with a look of longing; happiness is a luxury she can’t afford when her father can’t even recognize her. A hostile boyfriend isn’t helping either. Anne tries to do what’s best for Anthony, but his condition is starting to overwhelm her. Olivia Colman (“The Favourite”) is predictably excellent in the role; it’s a performance filled with worry, heartbreak and anguish.
Editor Yorgos Lamprinos, production designer Peter Francis and director of photography Ben Smithard play a huge role in the effective execution of this puzzle. The looping of scenes, the spacious scenery and the subtle changes in every room are smartly used to bend time and create disorientation. Their work is in perfect synchronicity, allowing the film to flow while never feeling like a play.
The directing, screenplay and technical elements are all there. But it’s Anthony Hopkins who pushes “The Father” to the next level with a powerhouse performance. He masks the confusion of the character with anger, but not before showing us a subtle glimpse of turmoil in his face first. His pauses are painful. The clarity in his eyes is comforting, and the absence of it is heartbreaking. Hopkins is astonishing.
“The Father” is now showing in New York City and Los Angeles cinemas. It will expand nationwide on March 12 before being available for PVOD on March 26. Make sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram for more film reviews.
Ricardo is a Mexico City based bilingual writer, digital animation graduate and awards season nerd. He also enjoys pro wrestling, is a Paddington fan and is the founder of the film website “La Estatuilla.”