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Review: ‘The Father’ invites viewers into a difficult reality (Includes first-hand account)

‘The Father’ is an incredibly moving film that embodies the confusion and loneliness dementia has on the afflicted and those closest to them.

A scene from 'The Father' - Sarah Gopaul
A scene from 'The Father' - Sarah Gopaul
A scene from ‘The Father’ – Sarah Gopaul

‘The Father’ is an incredibly moving film that embodies the confusion and loneliness dementia has on the afflicted and those closest to them.

While our bodies are generally vulnerable to any number of ailments and injuries, the increased risk that comes with age can be concerning. Many of these illnesses are normalized as they’re unavoidable and chalked up to “getting old”… but that doesn’t make them any less welcome or frightening. It’s difficult to imagine how one copes with mobility issues or the loss of mental faculties without having ever been in that position. However, some narratives try to help people understand not only what it’s like, but also how to treat people affected by these issues. The Father does this by putting viewers in the shoes of an elderly man.

Anthony (Sir Anthony Hopkins) is an affluent retiree entering the late stages of dementia. Unwilling to admit he needs assistance, he’s rudely run-off several caregivers hired by his daughter, Anne (Olivia Colman), while insisting she be there to help him instead. Anne is doing her best, but understandably finds his lashing out distressing. Moreover, she’s no longer going to be in a position to care for him soon and is struggling to find a long-term solution. In the meantime, Anthony wanders around in his pyjamas more frequently, fails to recognize his family or his surroundings, and loses track in the midst of basic tasks.

Writer/director Florian Zeller’s debut film is an adaptation of a play that personifies dementia. The experience of watching the picture is simultaneously sad and terrifying. Anthony’s symptoms are depicted in a manner that initially confuses audiences as multiple actors appear to be playing the same characters, and the same scenes are repeated but with slight variations. The gradual realization that this is, to some degree, a first-person perspective of life with dementia adds a solemn weight to the watch experience. It becomes easier to understand why people with this disease are often frightened and/or angry, while perhaps increasing one’s anxiety over one day being in Anthony’s position.

Hopkins should definitely have been on a gold-paved path to awards season with his exceptional performance. His portrayal of Anthony’s memory lapses, as well as impaired reasoning and social abilities are devastatingly authentic. It’s also something to see a Hollywood icon who so many have watched for so long in such a vulnerable state. For her part, Colman’s depiction of the loving but ill-equipped daughter is sympathetic and easy with which to empathize. Conversely, her husband (Rufus Sewell) represents the less popular opinion of the burden Anthony is to their family. Imogen Poots also plays a brief role as one of Anthony’s better-liked caregivers, though that’s not to say she fairs much better than the others before her.

The whole concept and its execution are quite effective and affecting. While it’s still impossible to know exactly what it’s like to live with dementia, this glimpse into the disease will not be easily forgotten — nor will Hopkins’ performance.

Director: Florian Zeller
Starring: Olivia Colman, Anthony Hopkins and Imogen Poots

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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