Release Date(s)2020 (May 18, 2021)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: C+
The Father is a captivating, often sad film about the tragedy of aging. Told from the point of view of Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), a widower in his 80s, the film shows the effects of advancing senility on both Anthony and his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman).
An episodic character study of a man in decline, the film offers a tour de force performance by Hopkins. His character can be funny, charming, exasperating, cruel, pathetic, and confrontational, and his mood can change instantly from good natured to aggressive. Though Anne makes allowances, he tests her patience.
Consisting of a series of scenes indicating Anthony’s state of mind, The Father has a through story of Anne preparing to move from London to Paris to be with her boyfriend. Knowing that she will no longer be available to come to her father on a moment’s notice, she attempts to convince him that he needs round-the-clock care. His previous caregiver has quit because she couldn’t put up with his rudeness. Now Anne must get him used to the idea of a long-term care facility. Anthony, of course, insists he has a mind of steel and will be fine alone in his apartment.
Set almost entirely in Anthony’s flat, the film uses the location to emphasize his disorientation. He has an indignant conversation with a strange man who claims to be the owner of the flat, is confused by a woman who says she’s his daughter, and forgets about Anne’s plan to move to Paris. As he wanders through the large apartment, subtle changes in color scheme and lighting suggest the disconnects in his mind.
Anne is a good, dutiful daughter. She visits her father several times a week to check up on him and has learned to accept his decline with patience and compassion. Now she’s come to a crossroads. She wants to pursue her own happiness, yet feels a responsibility to insure her father’s safety and well-being. The fact that he regards her plans as abandonment tears at her.
Director Florian Zeller adapted The Father from his own stage production. Rather than shoot the film from an objective point of view, Zeller lets the drama unfold through Anthony’s eyes. What we assume are actual conversations may only be inventions of his mind, characters may be real or imaginary, and events and places may not always be as they seem. This technique allows the viewer to experience the tragedy of a deteriorating mind and feel what it is like to have a constant cloud over reality. The film plays with the audience’s perspective by putting us in Anthony’s shifting world, throwing us a curve each time Anthony is confused, antagonistic, or paranoid.
The film balances anguish and sorrow with humor and farce, yet never loses psychological and emotional dynamism. It delivers an enormous amount of empathy for both Anthony and Anne, but has its lighter moments. An ongoing motif is Anthony’s constantly losing his watch, insisting it’s been stolen. “There’s something funny going on,” he brays. At another point, he accuses Anne of suffering from memory loss. And claiming to a caregiver (Imogen Poots) that he was once a dancer, he breaks into an impromptu tap shuffle.
Anthony Hopkins, who won the Best Actor Academy Award for this role, is masterful in his ability to draw upon every emotion, some subtle, some extremely bold. He always makes the film feel real despite its cinematic invention. From wildly charming to defiantly angry, from broken to confident, from lost to funny, he commands the screen.
Olivia Colman is excellent. Her softspoken manner and expressive face convey Anne’s kindness and heartbreak. Despite her father’s repeated cruelties (he declares several times that she is intellectually deficient and his other daughter is his favorite), Anne takes care of his needs and attributes his hurtful words to his deteriorating mind.
Featuring 1080p resolution, The Father is presented on Blu-ray in the widescreen aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The picture is pristine with sharp details that are nicely delineated, particularly in faces, apartment furniture, and clothing patterns. Skin hues are pleasant. The color palette is fairly muted, and tends toward desaturated hues as the film progresses to coincide with Anthony’s mental deterioration. Lighting in the apartment is not overly bright, with daylight diffused through gauzy curtains. The outside world seldom appears bright and sunny, instead seeming overcast, just as Anthony’s clarity is clouded.
The soundtrack is English 5.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio. Optional English and English SDH subtitles are available. Dialogue dominates and it is clear and distinct throughout. Hopkins displays a wide range of emotion through the nuances in his delivery. There’s a bit of ambient sound from traffic noise outside the flat. Because of the single location, surround sound activity is minimal. Moments of silence create suspense as Anthony hears unexpected noises in the flat and goes to investigate. The musical score by Ludovico Einaudi is appropriately subtle and never overpowers the dialogue.
Bonus materials on the PG-13 rated Blu-ray include two behind-the-scenes featurettes and deleted scenes.
Homecoming: Making The Father (7:06) – Cast members and director Florian Zeller discuss the making of the film. The single set has to represent both Anthony’s reality and what’s in his mind. The narrative requires you to separate the two. The look of the apartment changes all the time. It was a way to travel yet stay in the same rooms. “Dying light is a constant presence.” Camera movements were not overly complicated. As the film progresses, hues become paler. Director Florian Zeller selected his cast well. He didn’t do many takes, usually just one or two. As a director, Zeller “has a lightness and an easiness” in his approach.
Perception Check: Portrait of The Father (8:32) – Writer/director Florian Zeller told Anthony Hopkins the screenplay was written expressly for him. Zeller wanted the audience to “experience a slice of dementia.” The film is from Anthony’s perspective. The viewer sees events through the eyes of a man suffering from dementia. Though the original play was in French, Zeller felt it was an English story and wanted English actors to tell it. Hopkins drew upon the memory of his own father late in life. Hopkins’ character charms a caretaker, suddenly breaks into a tap dance to impress her, then switches instantly to become threatening. The film is also the story of the relationship between a father and daughter. Anne is fighting a losing battle against her father’s worsening dementia. He is cruel to Anne and that hurts her. According to Hopkins, acting has become easier with the passing years. He’s referred to as a “formidable presence.”
Deleted Scenes (5:58) – Three scenes shot but cut from the release version are included: I Never Asked You for Anything, Did He Hear?, and Frightened.
Deeply moving, never patronizing, The Father is a gentle-handed yet powerful film that gives us, through a perceptive script and Hopkins’ superb performance, a window into what living with dementia could be like. It conveys genuine emotions and deliberately fools us in many ways but never fakes its feelings. It’s a beautifully crafted film.
- Dennis Seuling