The Father is akin to watching a horror film. But instead of the usual genre tropes related to the likes of supernatural, boogeyman and serial killer, Florian Zeller’s feature-length debut — adapted from his own 2014’s award-winning play Le Père — explored the unflinching horrors of dementia.
The story — written by Christopher Hampton and Zeller himself — is deceptively simple: Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) is the titular 80-year-old retiree who lives in a big flat in London. His daughter, Anne (Olivia Colman) is worried about his health as Anthony suffers from memory loss where, among other things, often forgets where he puts his watch. Anthony happens to be a stubborn man as well. He refuses to have a carer to take care of him since Anne is about to move to Paris with a man she met.
From there, we learn about Anthony’s progressively deteriorating mental health as he often confuses about what’s going on around him. At times, he’s unsure about different persons — among them include Mark Gatiss, Rufus Sewell and Imogen Poots — who show up in his flat, with the former two may or may not be Anne’s husband.
In The Father, Zeller may restrict the film’s setting primarily within the confines of a flat. But it’s far from a stagey kind typically associated with films set in a (mostly) single location. Here, he actually made good use of the limited setting to his advantage, with the interior surrounding of the flat constantly changing from time to time which reflects Anthony’s perplexing mental condition.
He also takes us deep into the mind of a person who suffers from dementia to experience what it’s like to be him. In other words, we feel just as confused, forgetful and frustrated as he does from Anthony’s perspective. Zeller has certainly brought a fresh yet vivid approach to the bleak depiction of dementia. He makes it clear that dementia only gets worse for someone like Anthony, with the film grows increasingly pessimistic as the story moves along. It was undoubtedly a scary thought since dementia can happen to anyone in a real-life situation.
At the heart of the film is 83-year-old Anthony Hopkins, giving his best late-career performance to date that earned him a much-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Despite his age, Hopkins’ impressively layered acting is on full display, where he effortlessly alternates from feeling cranky to expressing anger, sympathy and despair. Other times, he can be fun and charming as evidently seen during a scene where he’s feeling all jovial in front of a carer, Laura (Poots). And he does all that convincingly without succumbing to overacting.
While Hopkins’ scene-stealing performance is undeniable, let’s not forget about Olivia Colman either. Her role as the long-suffering daughter trying to do everything she can to help her father is just as praiseworthy.
Clocking at just 97 minutes, Zeller wastes no time getting to the point and he does a great job making me hooked throughout the duration. The Father is brutally honest and heartbreaking, making it perhaps the best film about dementia ever seen.
Total Oscar nominations: 6 (Best Picture, Best Actor – Anthony Hopkins, Best Supporting Actress – Olivia Colman, Best Adapted Screenplay – Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller, Best Film Editing – Yorgos Lamprinos and Best Production Design – Peter Francis and Cathy Featherstone)