So many families struggle with the pain of dementia, losing a loved one inch by inch. In my family, it was my grandmother and the fear that someday I myself will endure the loss of my mind and spirit. So while this film was not an easy film to watch, I still wanted to see it to figure out if they would portray this illness realistically and with kindness. And when I watched, I saw a film that had brilliant writing, that captured the heart of dementia, what it feels like to lose your grip on reality, and powerful performances that are heart-wrenching because they so completely capture the emotional impact of dementia.
The Father, based on the 2012 play Le Père by Florian Zeller who also co-wrote and directed the film, follows an aging man, Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) who must deal with his progressing memory loss. In the film, Anthony believes his daughter, Anne (Olivia Colman) has moved into his flat to care for him, despite his protestations that he needs no help. As the film progresses, we learn that she’s moved him into her flat to live with her and her husband, Paul (Rufus Sewell), causing a strain on their marriage and requiring her to hire a helper, Laura (Imogen Poots) while she’s at work. Anthony slowly loses his grasp on reality, forgetting Anne’s face and Paul’s, conflating them with other people, Catherine (Olivia Williams) and Bill (Mark Gatiss) who care for him in the final stages of his disease. Anthony’s memories slowly degrade causing him to lose all sense of time and place.
The writing and the performances are inextricably bound together. With most of the action taking place in the flat, it highlights the performances and the writing, keeping the focus on the story rather than clever special effects and locations. In this case, the writing uses different points in time to showcase how Anthony loses his mind. One moment he is talking with his daughter and the next, he is making a cup of tea, putting away groceries that Anne brings into the house in a later scene. The scenes and people overlap, making even the audience question what is reality and what is truth, the reality slowly unveiled until the inevitable conclusion in which we see the degradation of Anthony’s state of mind and spirit. It is the use of time, the transitions between scenes exquisitely demonstrate the impact of Anthony’s illness.
I had no reason to doubt that Anthony Hopkins would bring a brilliant performance but it is not just his portrayal alone that creates the impact in this film. How Anthony Hopkins changes demeanors and personas as his reality dissolves are perfectly portrayed, to provide insight into his confusion and his loss. He certainly carries the weight of the film and does so with brilliance and power. Olivia Colman as Anne is sympathetic as she struggles with caring for her father, deals with the changing demeanors, and argues with her husband over his care. She also demonstrates the pain of her father forgetting the death of her sister Lucy with caring and sorrow. Olivia Colman is engaging and empathetic. The performances of the rest of the cast are equally strong, adding weight to the loss of Anthony’s reality as he mixes up faces and times.
While this is unavoidably a difficult film to watch for anyone who has a family member with this illness, it is so powerful and so brilliant, that it is worth watching if only to provide a deeper understanding of how this illness warps perceptions and changes the person’s personality over time. The pain and sadness of losing a loved one like this are beautifully portrayed and that devastating slow crawl into oblivion and madness is perfectly written and presented. If you want a broader understanding of dementia or just want to see Anthony Hopkins in one of his most brilliant and powerful performances, this film is worth watching. I would watch Anthony Hopkins in anything but this film was, while heartbreaking, was incredible to experience his talent at its finest and the amazing performances of the rest of the cast.
Rating: 5 out of 5 memories.
Official Website: The Father Movie | Official Website | Sony Pictures Classics
The Father will be available through VOD on Friday, March 26, 2021.