As the proud son of an aging dad, The Father is basically mega-unhappy nightmare juice. Florian Zeller’s film is a (presumably) hyper-realistic dementia simulator tucked inside a story about how you are either going to fail your dying parent(s) or surrender too much of yourself to the end of their lives. Watching it is like playing “Would You Rather: The Adult Responsibility Edition.” Oh, and it ends on a scene that will haunt your brain like you had the word “Amityville” tattooed on your hippocampus.
Sir Anthony Hopkins plays the titular role, a man also named Anthony. In addition to the evil that is time laying waste to his mental faculties, Anthony is just the tiniest, wee-bit of a total and complete dick. Isn’t that fun? Although caring for any ailing family member is always a Giving Tree scenario, bearing that burden for an A-hole is extra-special unfun.
Anne (Olivia Colman) does her best to juggle her daughterly duties and, you know, actually live her own life. Her husband, Paul (Rufus Sewell), is either a geriatric-abusing monster or just a regular jerk, depending on how much of what Anthony perceives is real. Playing with reality is the big “trick” of The Father and what elevates it from a well-acted, intimate family drama into something profound. The film is flooded with high-octane tension that comes from trying to separate what “really happened” from what didn’t without any objective information.
Most dementia-centric dramas quickly descend into sorrow pornography. Instead, The Father is almost a thriller. Zeller doesn’t deploy gimmicky camerawork or hallucinatory elements in order to say to audiences “See, that’s how it feels for your dad.” Instead, the film quietly skips, moves, and edits through time and logic without any overt clues or cues. Without sinking into some “Alzheimer’s POV” nonsense, it endeavors to effect the same tragic disorientation that Anthony and the millions of real people like him feel every day.
That just really, really sucks ass, right? Ugh. That’s what will echo here, long after its brutal final sequence. Touching that pain, the desperation and agony that those afflicted with certain conditions can’t even express, is like dropping a dumbbell on a day-old bruise. Without question, you’ll take Hopkins’ meticulously intricate performance and Colman’s deft understatement with you, too. But the thing that will follow you in the dark, that will whisper when its quiet, is the mortal truth The Father dares you to look at.
Sounds like a real fun time, huh?
You have to be in an emotionally stalwart place to endure this. You have to be ready to feel an anguish you’ve never felt. You have to be willing to let in the kind of hurt many don’t get a choice about. And you should. Because ultimately, all we can do for some people is look into their eyes like windows and try to understand what it must feel like in there.
Grade = A
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Carla Hay at Culture Mix says “The last 15 minutes of The Father deliver an emotional wallop that lays bare the torturous nightmare of having dementia.”
Max Weiss at Baltimore Magazine says the film “leans too strongly into the horror tropes, to the point where it seems the film is less about truly understanding the experience of a dementia patient and more about messing with the audience.”
Travis Hopson at Punch Drunk Critics says “For all of its heft, Zeller does little to draw distance from its stage roots, shutting the door on any chance of it to thrive.”