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Challenging And Brilliant: 'The Father' Film Review

Author: Kristina Cooper

Picture: Kova PR

Challenging And Brilliant: 'The Father' Film Review

Oscar-winning film The Father is well worth watching, and offers great insights into dementia, says Kristina Cooper.

Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for his role in “The Father” , which will have its UK release on 15 June 2021. Having seen the film, I can see why. His performance is a tour de force. The film charts the mental decline of  Anthony (Hopkins) a cultured, independent,  opera-loving old man, living in his own flat, who ends up in a care facility, confused and blubbing like a small child.

Despite its depressing theme, it’s a brilliant film on many levels and has a superb cast. Anthony’s put upon but devoted daughter is played with brimming eyes by Olivia Coleman, another Oscar winner.  The rest of  the small supporting cast include Rufus Sewell, Olivia Williams, Mark Gatiss and Imogen Poots. The film is directed by French dramatist, Florian Zeller, and is based on his award-winning stage play of the same name. This has been translated into English by his long- time collaborator Christopher Hampton.

I was struck immediately by the superior dialogue, and the mesmerising way the story develops and draws the audience in, which makes it more like a psychological thriller than a family drama. Similar to the film  A Beautiful Mind, it takes a while to realise that what we are seeing is not objective reality, but Anthony’s reality.

Watch the trailer for The Father  here:

Flipping About With Time And Space

At one point daughter (Coleman) goes out, after a discussion with Anthony when she tells him she is moving to Paris to be with her new love, which makes finding him a carer all the more urgent.  A few minutes later, however, the door opens and  a different Olivia (Williams) comes in. Anthony demands to know who she is, and is told that she is his daughter, and she had just popped out to get the chicken for lunch. “But you said you were going to Paris,” he says. She looks perplexed, but we are not.

There is this constant flipping about with time and place, playing with what is real and what is not. On another occasion, Anthony hears someone coming into the flat and finds a strange man sitting there reading the paper. He claims to be Paul, Coleman’s husband, who at a later point is played by another actor, Rufus Sewell, while this original Paul later emerges as Bill, who works at the care facility.

When Anthony, reasonably from his point of view, asks what he is doing in Anthony’s flat, he is told that it is not his flat, but that Hopkins is living in his daughter’s flat and has done for some time. Given that we never see Anthony experiencing the move, we can understand why he might be confused.

Addressing Our Understanding Of Reality

As the film progresses, the two locations frequently blend, enabling the audience to experience what it must be like when you can’t trust what you see, and how this might undermine your understanding of reality.

As well as being very cleverly put together, the film shows great insights into dementia.  Anyone who has had to deal with a family member or a friend suffering from this condition will recognise Anthony’s traits – the  hiding of  precious objects and insistence that things have been stolen, as well as mood swings and petulance. 

The Father  is a film that is well worth watching for its insights and the challenges of living with someone with dementia. It underlined for me, as a Christian, however, that human love and compassion is never enough in the face of the immensity of  suffering. This is always a mystery even for those who do believe in God, but without God, suffering becomes even more bleak, because there is no meaning, no end to it-and no resurrection.

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