The Father (2020)
A humanizing portrayal of dementia and aging
The Father, based on Florian Zeller’s 2012 play La Perè, is a great example of adapting a play into a movie. In my Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom review, I noted that this type of movie often doesn’t properly switch from play-mode to movie-mode. In fact, movies like these often feel like plays that are just being filmed. Fortunately, unlike many other play-turned-movie movies, The Father feels like it was made for cinema.
The Father is filmed primarily from the perspective of Anthony – who is suffering with dementia. His daughter Anne struggles to take care of him while balancing work and a relationship. Anthony’s memory loss takes an emotional toll on both him and Anne.
I put off watching The Father because I was afraid it was going to be difficult to get through. But although the subject matter is very heavy, the movie puts the viewer in the passenger seat. We aren’t just watching a man lose his memory from a distance. Instead, we are experiencing his dementia alongside him.
What I liked
In a strange way, this movie reminded me of HBO’s Watchmen. Similar to that mini-series, The Father slowly untangles its confusing web of details to reveal the bigger picture. And like Watchmen, the intentional fracturing of the story is what makes the watch enjoyable.
The Father very effectively uses different locations and people to emphasize the fear and confusion felt by Anthony. Like him, the viewer is forced to question everything. Is Anthony living in his home or his daughter’s? Where is his other daughter, Lucy? Is Anne married or not? Who really are the strangers he keeps finding in his home?
Like Anthony’s fear and confusion, we also feel Anne’s increasing frustration. She has to manage her father’s every move to ensure his safety and sense of security. More than that, she takes on the responsibility of making life changing decisions for both of them.
The nuances and delicateness of the situation are expertly portrayed by Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman. The Father likely wouldn’t have worked nearly as well with other actors.
What I didn’t like
The sets, actors and perspectives in The Father are all used to intentionally confuse moviegoers. Unlike Watchmen however, the movie doesn’t capitalize on its potential. There’s a lot of room in the movie for more tie-ins to set pieces and perspectives to elevate the storytelling. In particular, the three main locations weren’t as defined as they should have been. A little more strategy and the sets would have come across as somewhat defined characters themselves.
The Father is a must-watch this year. If you’ve never considered what aging could look like for you or a loved one, this movie will be an eye-opener for you. It’s a heartbreaking and honest look at dementia in real world situations. The movie excels at empathy and everyone who watches it will be better off as a result.
Source: Sony Pictures Classic (2020)