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Review: The Father (2021)

The Father (2021)

Directed by: Florian Zeller

Premise: An adaptation of the stage play. An elderly man (Anthony Hopkins) copes with dementia. His daughter (Olivia Colman) tries to find a caretaker but he refuses assistance from anyone.

What Works: Dementia is not an unfamiliar topic in motion pictures but The Father is distinguished by a unique approach. A lot of illness films, and especially dementia dramas like Still Alice and Away From Her and The Savages, tend to look at the issue from the outside. These films take an objective point of view and dramatize the toll that the disease wrecks on the patient and the lives of the patient’s family. While that sort of drama can be found in The Father, this film is unique because the portrait of dementia unfolds subjectively from the patient’s point of view. Events are presented out of sequence or they are reenacted in ways that are inconsistent and make the truth uncertain. Multiple actors play identical characters which simulates the way in which dementia patients might not recognize an otherwise familiar face. By presenting the issue this way, The Father makes us empathize with the patient and the angry or even violent behavior that seems erratic from the outside is made rational. The approach also makes this film extremely rewatchable. The pieces of The Father fit together like a collage and additional and deeper meanings can be found on subsequent viewings. The movie includes some exceptional performances. Anthony Hopkins plays the lead and it’s one of Hopkins’ best performances. Actors playing ill characters, especially mentally ill characters, sometimes play too hard for our sympathy. Hopkins doesn’t do that. He’s quite brusque especially in the first half of the film, but as the character’s condition worsens and reality begins to fragment, Hopkins earns our empathy as we understand his confusion. Also impressive are Olivia Colman and Rufus Sewell as the daughter of Hopkins’ character and her husband. Colman and Sewell capture the exasperation of coping with a mentally ill family member and the actors and the movie do not soften the burden.

What Doesn’t: The Father is distinct from other dementia dramas in its approach but also in its tone. A lot of disease movies are about holding onto dignity in the face of illness and mortality. While there’s some of that in The Father, it doesn’t have the kind of heartwarming or sentimental qualities that are often found in other medical dramas. That’s not a fault of The Father; its lack of sentimentality is very much to the movie’s credit. But The Father does not offer the comfort and reassurances that medical dramas frequently provide to audiences. 

DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, and a trailer.  

Bottom Line: The filmmakers of The Father use the tools of cinema to place the viewer in the point of view of a dementia patient. The result is a vivid and disconcerting portrait of reality and identity led by a stellar performance from Anthony Hopkins.

Episode: #856 (June 20, 2021)