The Father | A Psychological Thriller in Disguise
The Father is a 2020 movie directed by Florian Zeller. It is based on the 2012 French play Le Père, written by Zeller himself. The screenwriter Christopher Hampton then contributed to the adaptation for the big screen.
The movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning two, one for Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins) and one for Best Non-Original Screenplay.
The Father tells the story of Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), an 80-year-old widower who lives in his beautiful London apartment. He doesn’t get along with the caregivers his daughter Anne (Olivia Coleman) hires to help him, and every time the women end up quitting their job. This is a problem because Anne announces to her father that she is moving to Paris with her new partner, Paul, and that therefore she will no longer be able to take care of him as she is now.
But is Anne really moving to Paris?
Aren’t she and Paul already living with Anthony in his house?
And is that really the apartment of the elderly man or is it actually his daughter’s and her husband’s?
Things don’t seem to make much sense in Anthony’s head. This is because Anthony suffers from senile dementia.
The Father is not just a family drama
The Father is certainly a dramatic movie, but it hides much more, so much so that it has even been called a psychological thriller. It plays with the viewer’s emotions, with their anxiety and perception of the world, so much so as to make them lose their sense of reality. There is always the feeling that there is something wrong, that there is something that is missing, but the viewer cannot understand what it is. This is what is scary: the total confusion. And that’s exactly what Anthony himself feels in the movie.
The protagonist suffers. This leads him to not recognize the people around him, the house he is in, whether it is morning or evening.
When considering other films in the same vein, Amour by Michael Haneke certainly has some similarities.
But, as in Christopher Nolan‘s Memento – in which a man loses his memory every few days – the point of view is that of someone who experiences the drama firsthand.
In The Father, the viewers, for the entire duration of the movie, are in Anthony’s head. They experience in first person his fragility and his mental disorder, so much so that even they are no longer able to understand what happens before and after, what is real and what is not.
The Father allows the viewer to understand how the days of a person suffering from dementia can really be. And this is a disease that could really affect both those around us and ourselves. Getting a taste of what this might entail can be terrifying.
Details make the difference
The feeling of alienation that Anthony experiences is expressed not only by the changes of scene, of actors, or of the focus of the dialogue. There are many details that are implemented and which the viewer may not even notice, but which, deep down, are registered by the brain as “strange”. A change of furniture. A room that was bigger before and now smaller. Objects that used to be in one place and now are in another. It’s time for dinner, but it’s sunny outside. It’s breakfast time, but the sun is no longer in the sky – these are the same subtle but disturbing elements that can also be noted in other movies, such as I’m thinking of endings things by Charlie Kaufman.
Zeller plays with the production design and the lights, but without making it too obvious. The apartment itself is therefore one of the characters. Its high ceilings and spacious environment become more and more claustrophobic as the narrative continues. A keen eye realizes it, but regardless, in the end, the experience is still overwhelming.
Zeller repeatedly uses long shots, which, combined with Yorgos Lamprinos‘ Oscar-nominated editing, express the growing distance Anthony feels between himself and reality.
The Father is like a puzzle
I liked playing with it so that the viewer suddenly wasn’t just lost, because losing someone is easy, but was intellectually stimulated to find their own way in the timeline. Because my belief is that the viewers are intelligent, that’s the bias of this film. It has not to be easy. I know that if people don’t get them all, they’re looking for them. I wanted the movie to be like a puzzle, indeed there are pieces missing on purpose, and that’s the whole building game.Interview with Florian Zeller for the French online magazine Cineman
It’s hard to make sense of it all if you’re missing the pieces to finish Zeller’s expertly crafted puzzle. But this is precisely the goal of The Father, and the experience is certainly worth the attempt.