Anthony Hopkins IS The Father! His name happens to be Anthony too. Anthony is suffering from dementia and his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) is trying to take care of him. She tries hiring him help so he can keep living in his own flat, but he makes it too difficult for them.
Now, dementia is a sobering ailment that impacts families. It is well worth exploring in film so that people going through it themselves can feel they’re not alone, and people on the outside can perhaps learn patience and empathy with the struggle. Co-writer and director Florian Zeller does more than that though. He uses cinema to create a first person experience from inside Anthony’s mind.
The Father skips over moments in the story just like Anthony’s mind probably does. He may think it’s still morning and not remember how the day passed. We miss the transition just like he does, although when Anne has to explain it over and over again, the audience perhaps feels her hardship more than Anthony is capable of at this point. He’s just defensive to protect himself, and who can blame him? His condition is no fault of his own.
Furthermore his location could change without notice. His own flat becomes Anne’s husband Paul (Rufus Sewell)’s. The audience sees scenes that suddenly didn’t happen, or may have happened years before. Characters appear and disappear, or change from scene to scene. You ultimately find out who Mark Gatiss and Olivia Williams actually play by the end, but throughout the film they represent more confusion for Anthony. We have to piece together the people in his life because he can’t. Zeller also repeats dialogue at exactly the right moment to convey confusion.
Hopkins gets to monologue as Anthony, so it’s a great showcase to watch Hopkins handle juicy scenes, especially his scenes with prospective caretaker Laura (Imogen Poots). He gets to be vulnerable, but he’s also difficult and angry. Anger is a common defense mechanism. It’s common in young people who get challenged so imagine if you literally have no memory and someone is telling you something happened.
Zeller based this movie on his own play, and I can imagine it working on stage too. Actors come in and out, sets rapidly change, but there is something about the editing of film that makes it as jarring as dementia must feel. There’s no crew backstage reorganizing your life. You’re just dropped into your own life having missed huge chunks.
The Father is heartbreaking but a thrilling cinematic experience. Sort of like how Requiem For a Dream put viewers in the experience of a drug addict, it’s not a pleasant experience but it’s invigorating to see how cinema can capture human experiences that mere words can’t convey.