The big shock at this year’s Oscars was Anthony Hopkins winning his second Academy Award for a little seen movie that did not even have a European release date, despite being a British production and all-British cast.
The Father centres on Anthony, a retired wealthy older man with dementia, and his long suffering daughter who is looking after him. The difference in this film, and others on the same topic is, we see the world from Anthony's perspective.
As a result, the scenes often feel out of order, furniture and wallpaper change as he goes from one room to another. People come in and out of his world and he is embarrassed when he forgets who they are. Different actors play the same characters. His embarrassment at all the confusion turns to anger sometimes and often he lashes out. It is a deeply unsettling movie. It could almost be described as a horror.
Anthony Hopkins can be quite hit and miss. When he is good, as in Silence of the Lambs and Remains of the Day, he is one of the best screen actors working. Sometimes he just phones it in. Americans love him, so he gets a lot of work, but he does a lot of rubbish movies.
I thought we had seen the last of his really great performances. However in 2018’s The Two Popes, Hopkins blew me away. Two years later he has done it again with a truly unique take on a much played trope. The dementia role has been awards bait for years - Julianne Moore won for Still Alice, an average enough film with a great performance.
The Father actually reminded me of Memento by Christopher Nolan. Like Nolan, the director Florian Zeller gaslights the viewer from the beginning. As you slowly piece together what you are watching, it becomes a deeply unsettling experience. There are shades of King Lear throughout, as his strained relationships with his daughters are brought up clumsily via his confusion.
Short scenes of brevity or humour often curdle into failure or embarrassment for Anthony, and those moments are genuinely hard to watch. One scene, where he is introduced to a new nurse, is deeply uncomfortable for the viewer after a charming start. Hopkins is brave in his performance with absolutely zero vanity. At no point in this film does Anthony pull at your heart strings or look for sympathy, which, on reflection, is one of the sadder elements.
The Father is not an enjoyable film to experience but not everything has to be Paddington 2. It is a great film to stimulate conversation, even just with yourself. A sobering watch that highlights a horrifically cruel disease.