Dementia is a horrible, heartbreaking affliction that is terrifying for the victim and emotionally wracking for the family members surrounding them. And while the disease has been portrayed on screen many times before, in Florian Zeller’s The Father, the story is primarily told from a unique perspective: through the eyes of the afflicted.
Anthony (played by a never-better Anthony Hopkins) is a retired engineer who putters around his expansive London flat, while living in constant fear of his daughter (an equally brilliant Olivia Colman) putting him in a residential facility. However the viewer quickly realizes that all is not what it seems: Anthony is already deep in the throes of dementia and forced to battle various realities. His situation and the people populating it are constantly shifting, changing, or becoming entirely different from what he was experiencing only moments before.
Based on the play by the same name and directed and adapted by its author Zeller, The Father is not the depressing downer one might expect—though it's often poignant and heart wrenching. Along with being a family drama, it just as easily plays as a mystery or horror film. Time expands and collapses, set pieces move and change, and characters are suddenly portrayed by different actors—all without warning. Anthony is constantly baffled and threatened by these sudden shifts in reality, but at the same time trapped, because if he brings his confusing situation to his family's attention, he (rightly) fears he'll be shipped off to a home. It's disturbing, horrifying, and quite possibl, the best depiction yet of what dementia must feel like to the person experiencing it.
The cast—which also includes Mark Gatiss, Olivia Williams, and more—are uniformly terrific, but Colman and especially Hopkins are giving what may be the performances of their careers. Colman projects a lifetime of trauma, hope, and frustration all within her eyes, while Hopkins is simultaneously fragile, boisterous, and terrified as a man trapped in shifting realities.
As for Zeller's direction, translating plays to the screen is always a dicey prospect, as they are more often than not stilted and claustrophobic. Here, the claustrophobia blends effortlessly into the film and the subtle shifts in set pieces, location, and even sunlight will make you leap for the rewind button as you (along with the beleaguered Anthony) try to figure out what exactly is going on.
More than anything, The Father delivers empathy, and an all-too-infrequent opportunity to witness the unseeable through someone else's eyes.
Find out how to watch The Father (along with many other movies and events) at EverOut.