Florian Zeller’s The Father takes us devastatingly into the mind of a man who’s losing his own to dementia. Based on the director’s 2012 play Le Pere, the film is not an easy watch due to both its emotional themes and often confusing storyline. However, the latter is on purpose as The Father is frequently told from the viewpoint of Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) as he has lost his grip on time, place, and reality.
Primarily taking place in a London flat, Anthony is being cared for by his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) as the picture opens. It doesn’t take long to realize he suffers lapses in cognition. Anne tells her father that she will soon move to Paris because she’s fallen in love. Shortly thereafter we see Anne in the form of another woman (Olivia Williams) and she’s married to Paul (Mark Gatiss), which puts Anne’s recent tale of French relocation into question. Paul is later seen in the form of another being (Rufus Sewell) with Colman’s iteration of Anne back in the mix.
This is the puzzle piece in which we, the audience, are constantly piecing together. It’s soon apparent that we are subject to Anthony’s failing perspective. The Father covers the familiar issues involved with dementia in often unfamiliar ways: elder abuse, the exhaustive toll on family members, the brief moments of clarity that justify soldiering on.
There’s also the issue of another daughter who Anthony holds in high regard, but has seemingly disappeared from the scene. We see glimpses of Anthony’s gregarious personality when he lays on the charm for a prospective new caretaker (Imogen Poots). It coincides with his sometimes dismissive treatment of Anne.
All of this is held together by a masterful performance from Hopkins. Despite his movie star persona, it takes virtually no time in its 97 minutes for the Oscar winner to disappear into the role. The supporting cast is all first-rate, but our emotions rise and fall with Anthony’s own. For those with first-hand experience with this awful illness, The Father is a challenge to witness. For any moviegoer, it’s also an example of a unique take on the subject with a brilliant performance in the center of the tragic confusion.
***1/2 (out of four)