Sunday 1 May 2022

Movie Review: The Father (2020)

A drama about the agonies of dementia, The Father adopts the patient's perspective to deliver a disconcerting experience.

Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) is in his eighties, and lives in London. Suffering from creeping dementia, his perception of the world is muddled. He either lives in his own flat and is visited by his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman), or he lives in her flat with her husband Paul (Rufus Sewell), or her ex-husband.

Anne may or may no be relocating to Paris. She tries to arrange a caregiver who can withstand Anthony's crustiness, and the latest applicant Laura (Imogen Poots) looks a lot like Anthony's other daughter Lucy, an artist. Anthony overhears conversations, frequently misplaces his watch, has difficulty remembering people and events, senses he is not welcome, and suspects Anne and her husband may want to place him in a care home. 

Director Florian Zeller adapts his own play to the screen, and along with co-writer Christopher Hampton they produce a taut 97 minute journey into the black hole of mental deterioration. The Father is not an easy watch: mental illness degrades the essence of what it means to be human, and is horrendous for both patient and caregivers. The outcome is predetermined but the schedule is not, increasing the suffocating sense of frustration.

In a rare example of a play being potentially even better suited to the cinematic experience, Zeller sets out to disorient and confuse with a cold and calculating style. It does not take long for The Father to settle into a rhythm of confounding unreliability. Anthony's every interaction is suspect, because in his world time, people, places, and events fold onto each other. The audience's instinct is to try and understand, to piece together the fragments of routine conversations. Did Anne buy that chicken or not? Is Anthony living at his flat or at Anne's place? Is she moving to Paris or not? 

But the answers change according to each scene, Anthony's mental state now consisting of unconnected dots floating in non-linear space. The functional here-and-now part of his brain works overtime to cover for his deficiencies, but it's a losing battle, victimizing the people who want to care for him the most. Just occasionally a lucid moment slips through, nourishing the Herculean effort needed to get through the next hour.

In a career crowning performance, Anthony Hopkins occupies Anthony's humiliation with a mixture of defiance and arrogance, but allows the fear and fragility of bewilderment to reside close to the surface. Olivia Colman captures the grief bordering on resentment of a family member exhausted by the realization her best may be far from good enough. 

The Father does not seek nor find moments of happiness, but it does contribute to better understanding and deeper appreciation of acute distress.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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