The Father: The BRWC Review. By Alif Majeed.
The Father struck a nerve for me as I had a relative diagnosed with dementia during my childhood. Whenever we visited his house, I would always find him sitting in his chair at his house entrance with a vacant look on his face. He would try to recognize us when we greet him and after twitching his mouth into a senile smile, and go back to staring at the gate. Despite sometimes wondering what went on in his head, we regretfully never really bothered reaching out to him because of our youthful callousness back then. But going by The Father and Anthony Hopkins’ bravura performance in it, what goes on in his mind feels like a terrifying nightmare, rendering him utterly helpless.
My initial impression of The Father was to dismiss it as a prestige picture. Prestige pictures provide an illusion that they are predictable and cliched if you see enough of them. This reputation reached its peak in the ’80s with movies like Chariots of Fire, Gandhi, or Driving Miss Daisy. Every year during the awards season, we have movies that are dismissed as prestige movies made for the awards. With that in mind, it had my bare minimum attention as the film started. It just took me a good five minutes to realize that I was dead wrong about it as Anthony Hopkins was slowly revealing the character and his state of mind on screen. From there on, I was hooked and it never let up.
What made The Father a satisfying watch for me is also how the director Florian Zeller (adapting his play Le Péré), uses the state of mind of a man affected by dementia and uses it as a springboard to experiment with various genres. It goes from a prestige drama to thriller to straight-up horror movie where Hopkins makes you put on his shoes and relive the helplessness a guy might be in his place in that situation.
One movie that always fascinated me was, That Obscure Object Of Desire, the Luis Bunuel head-scratcher. In that movie, Mathieu (Fernando Rey) is captivated by a woman played by two different actresses, Carole Bouquet and Ángela Molina. They often switch appearances, often in the same scene, which often confounds the audience. It somehow makes sense now after watching The Father if we reimagine the guy who has dementia. It is just his state of mind two different people merge into one to make sense to him.
Characters, memories, and people unravel or merge in Anthony’s mind as his confusion because of dementia grows. The way it is depicted here could give anyone watching the movie a collective sense of dread, imagining themselves being in that position.
Anthony Hopkins might be the star here and had won a well-deserved Oscar, but he is able also surrounded by some lovely supporting actors. Especially Olivia Colman as his long-suffering daughter Anne and Rufus Sewell as her husband.
Rufus Sewell plays the imperfect husband who is frustrated at his wife’s dedication to her father. He works well enough to make you not hate him too much when you realize the passage of time that they had to deal with the situation. But it makes you wonder how he would react if it is his father who was suffering, and she is the outsider dealing with it.
Your heart would go out to Olivia Coleman, who plays Anthony’s patient daughter who has to deal with all her father throws at her. In one of the movie’s best scenes, she breaks down after a harsh beat down from her father. It’s a tricky scene because you can’t figure out if he was always like that towards her or just because of his dementia.
The Father seems destined to be dismissed as a prestige picture that stole the thunder from other more deserving movies, which is a shame. Anthony Hopkins’ central hypnotic performance goes a long way in reassuring you that this movie deserves your complete attention.
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