Dementia has become an increasingly popular topic to tackle in film, particularly in 2020. At least six films last year featured the subject across multiple genres ranging from horror to documentaries. While all the films had their merits, Florian Zeller’s The Father felt the most genuine. Adapted from his stage play of the same name, Zeller makes his feature film debut with a beautifully tragic character study about a man slowly losing his grip on reality.
Instead of focusing solely on an outsider perspective, The Father provides an empathetic and immersive experience of the everyday life of someone with dementia.
Anthony Hopkins plays Anthony, a curmudgeonly older man who rejects all assistance from his daughter, Anne (Olivia Coleman). He’s gone through caregiver after caregiver, refuses to leave his flat, and constantly asks after his youngest daughter, Lucy. But soon enough, Anthony begins to doubt his loved ones and his current reality. Is this really his flat? Who is that man in his chair? And where did his watch go?
Hopkins continues to be a tour de force in his craft, but The Father might be a career best for him. It’s rare to see him in such a raw and vulnerable role, especially one that is so emotionally demanding. From the way he is set up, Anthony appears to have advanced dementia but not too far to realize that something is amiss. Hopkins portrays this confusion with such a delicate touch, careful not to get into stereotype territory.
Coleman provides an outsider perspective that is both heartwrenching and limited. Like most children in her position, she feels defeated and lost—even to the point where she dreams of smothering her father. And it doesn’t help that her partner, Paul (Rufus Sewell), not so secretly despises how their life has been affected by Anthony’s illness.
But when Coleman and Hopkins are together, you see the remains of their father-daughter relationship. At the beginning of the film, Anne tells her father she is moving to Paris, to which he tearfully replies that she is abandoning him and doesn’t love him anymore. And at one point, Anthony recollects about being a tap dancer despite Anne reminding him that he was an engineer.
The Father’s greatest strength lies in its editing. Yorgos Lamprinos did a stellar job creating a constant sense of unease and confusion in an apartment setting. The constant switching of actors and locations is both clever and unnerving. Without his work, the film’s message would not have been nearly as effective.
Despite originally starting as a play, Zeller’s film adaptation is just as compelling as the play. With the help of a veteran ensemble and excellent technical work, The Father is a master-class on accurately portraying this difficult disease.