“The Father” (2020) is an British drama starring Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins. The film is a tour of the experience of dealing with life changes brought on by increasing dementia and how they appear through the mind of the person undergoing that horrible mental degenerative process
This is not a light hearted movie obviously. You start off with Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) having a tense discussion with his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) about the fact he needs another caretaker since she is moving from London to Paris to be with her new long term boyfriend. We flip to what feels like the next day when Anthony is making tea in the kitchen. He hears someone come in and finally walks into the living room to witness him casually surfing the internet on the phone like he lives there. In fact he does live there. It’s Anne’s husband. What about the boyfriend and moving to Paris? Anthony thinks he spilled the beans but her husband thinks Anthony is having another episode. He calls Anne who is at the store to come back since her father is in a bit of a state. She was just shopping down the street so makes it back relatively quickly. When she walks in though he doesn’t recognize her. Nor do we. The actress is someone different now. This was just the first of many times we see this sort of plastic like reality that Anthony is experiencing. The husband keeps changing between various people. She’s not going to Paris she is going to Paris. Conversations and events seem to be happening like Groundhog’s Day the movie but with subtle differences. We can’t tell if we are witnessing a linear timeline, repeating flashbacks, or if people are fucking with Anthony in his diminished state. That’s the point. That’s what it’s like to experience dementia.
I have unfortunately had to deal with some of dementia in my personal life but always from the outside perspective. You can see the confusion that comes from their reality feeling very different than what objective reality is. They just had lunch today with someone that died a decade ago. They don’t recognize someone like their child or sibling whom they see regularly. I know there is a good chance that if I live long enough I will go through various stages of that, assuming I’m not brought down by some other illness or catastrophic event. I’ve often wondered what it feels like from the point of view of the person experiencing it. This movie makes that more tangible to me.
Making the experience of the person going through that so vivid is a great accomplishment. Since I’ve never experienced it I can’t say whether it is “realistic” or not. Perhaps someone with earlier stage dementia whom has seen the movie could shed light on that. I imagine for anyone going through that process though this may hit too close to home. Even without dementia the radical changes in loss of abilities and therefore independence is a big enough struggle. The movie has us go back and forth through that too, as we can’t tell if Anthony is just being obstinate or not. Even up until the very end it isn’t clear how much of what we witnessed was the memories of recent years flooding back to him or if they were just the distorted sense of time and reality that people with advancing dementia experience.
The movie really moved me. I can see why Coleman, Hopkins, the writers, and the editors won awards for this, to say nothing for the dozens of awards they were nominated for but did not win. This is a very compelling movie, one that left me in a contemplative state even through to this morning before I started writing this review. You want to see this movie but steel yourself for it. I rate it 9/10.
PS It is not serendipity that they named the character Anthony. The writers wrote the part for him. They waited since 2017 for him to agree to do the part. They’ve stated that if he didn’t accept it the movie probably would have been made in the play’s original French rather than an English adaptation.