The Father (2021) Review
Aaron Roe takes a look at The Father, the powerful film that swept up awards at the Oscars.
Anthony Hopkins has proven again that he is amongst the finest of wines. But his shatteringly naked performance in The Father makes one wonder how finely the lines between fact and fiction are being drawn.
At 83, Hopkins must be articulating some of his own personal anxieties when assuming the role of Anthony, a man of 80 years of age suffering from late-stage dementia.
"So what happened?" Anne asks her father - Olivia Colman the image of anguish. Anthony’s forced another of his nurses to leave because of his difficult behaviour, even going so far as to accuse her of stealing his watch.
For many, the story is a familiar one, a painful parent-child role reversal; someone who has lived a life of self-dependency unable to comprehend his increasingly co-dependent state. Anthony quickly finds his watch and resumes his telly watching as if nothing has happened - we assume Anthony to be an unreliable source of information.
However, director Florian Zeller (adapting his own play Le Pere for an assured screen debut) understands the non-linear nature of dementia as a condition and instead seeks to cast a very dim light on the subjectivity of a character whose temporal realities are in a constant state of fluidity.
At first, Zeller uses subtle motifs to hint at instability, like Anne’s blue shirt - its colour seems permeate other mundane objects around the flat like a plastic bag, or the tiling on his kitchen wall. It isn’t long before Anthony’s dissolution becomes more intense - context is misconstrued on a dime; we’re seamlessly disorientated with the sudden change in location, or a familiar face seemingly not who we thought they were.
Zeller infuses the experience of dementia with flirtations of genre - it’s almost as if Anthony is a hapless PI, scrambling for some shred of sense amongst the greying limbo of his own conscious.
With The Father, the 41-year-old seems to have crafted a physiological thriller in the most literal sense of the genre, and hits the narrative beats with gothic tension.
It is one of those rare films that blend raw emotion with clever techniques which never feel gimmicky or exploitative. Of course, it all hinges on Hopkins, who delivers one of the best twilight performances by any actor.