Watch

‘The Father’: A poignant ode to caregivers

Mohammed Rayaan | Updated on September 08, 2021

Florian Zeller’s directorial debut turns the lens on the everyday reality of caring for an elderly parent with dementia

* Anthony Hopkins, in the titular role, delivers a career best performance, for which he rightfully won the Oscars for Best Actor this year

* Olivia Coleman plays his emotionally drained yet supporting daughter

* Director Florian Zeller nails his debut film with a story that made him win Oscars for the Best Adapted Screenplay along with co-screenwriter Christopher Hampton

****

The Father is one of the finest dramas ever made in recent times. It shows a mirror to the emotional baggage that comes to those suffering from dementia and also to the caregivers involved. The film first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year, and the movie is now streaming in India on LionsGate Play app.

Anthony Hopkins, in the titular role, plays Anthony, an old man with this grim medical condition. His performance swirls with a vibrant bag of emotion. It’s stunning, heart wrenching and beyond overwhelming. The actor proves that he has garnered an unbeatable amount of experience on the silver screen with age.

Hands down, it’s one of his greatest roles ever and a major highlight in his stellar career. If we saw him as the sinister serial killer Hannibal Lector, in The Silence of the Lambs, then in The Father, we see him as a person struggling to make sense of his reality. Both roles are poles apart but brutal and deadly in their own way.

It’s amazing how the plot of The Father unravels in just one setting — a home; the living room, the kitchen and the dining room. Occasionally, we do get to see the outside world when Anthony, seemingly fine, observes a young boy playing with a ball. It makes us wonder if Anthony is feeling the urge to be ‘young and free’, especially when his lips crack into a tiny smile.

The story starts off with Anthony looking dashing in a fine suit. However, we do get to see him lose awareness of his surroundings. He pockets a fork when he is about to eat or anything else that is in his hands.

Anthony starts talking about his “missing watch” to his daughter Anne, the talented Olivia Coleman. The father-daughter duo together deliver a resounding performance. Never in a long time such a tour de force of an on-screen chemistry has ever been shared by the lead stars.

The conversation Anthony has with Anne when she tries to convince him that it isn’t stolen and that it could be in his “hiding place” in the restroom is laden with an erratic feeling. Anthony’s reaction instantly flips from normalcy into hostility. It takes Hopkins’ level of craft to change emotions as if he were operating with a switch.

While Anthony’s mood keeps changing between calmness, suspicion, irritation or anger, Anne — on the other hand — has a permanent desperation etched on her face. She’s helpless. She’s unable to lead her own life with her boyfriend Paul, played by Rufus Sewell, in his usual, subdued manner.

Anne does her best to take care of her father but from the second half, she has plans to leave him at a care centre for the elderly. “You’re abandoning me!?” Anthony shouts when she tries to deliver the message. Yet despite all this, she does her best to support him as much as possible.

Time and reality

The plot is clever and the director, Florian Zeller proves that he is a master in manipulating time and reality. With shrewd cinematography and production design, Zeller shows us the ‘passage of time’ and the ‘realness’ of reality. It keeps shifting like a wisp of smoke, weak and unpredictable like Anthony’s behaviour.

At times, Anthony sees someone else as Anne and another man as Paul. It confuses us just as much as it confuses Anthony and that’s where the magic (or perhaps dark cruel magic if you will) lies. The capricious nature and at the same time, the simplicity with which the screenplay is written makes The Father brilliant. No doubt Zeller and Christopher Hampton won the coveted Oscars for the Best Adapted Screenplay; The Father is an adaptation of the director’s French play Le Père.

The film’s ingenious quality reaches its zenith in the second half when Anthony catches Anne and Paul in an intense discussion. While talking about this particular scene means spilling out a crucial crux of the story, it can however be said that the Zeller holds us together with a glove of bitterness and honesty; you feel helpless just like Anne.

The Father does have its poignant, if not, heart-warming moments. At one time when Anthony leaves to meet the doctor along with Anne, he keeps looking at her hair. When the daughter asks her if he’s fine, he casually says, “You look good”.

The smile with which his daughter responds brims with love and even a tinge of gratitude. You could say, at that instant, that this was what mattered to her — for her father to know that she’s doing her best to take care of him. The scene is so plain yet wonderful. It’s an ode to being a caregiver.

Anthony also shows his charming sense to Laura, a caretaker (played by the astounding Imogen Poots). With a minimal screen presence, Laura makes sure you notice her. She laughs when Anthony impresses her with a cheerful conversation but when he shows her his ‘other’ side, she’s left speechless.

And then there is Catherine, played by Olivia Williams. Williams delivers a performance that will make you believe that she’s a caregiver in real life.

When Anthony tells her to “f*** off”, she reacts with a smirk. The way she does it, as she sets the bed and pillow, is so full of casualness. She probably wonders, “Oh, I've heard that a million times and it won’t hurt me!”

Zeller wants the audience to see the emotional upheaval caregivers face when they treat a patient or elders — through Anne, Laura and Catherine.

In the end, as Anthony cries, asking for his mother and complaining about losing his “leaves, the branches, the wind and the rain”, Catherine calms him down. It is shattering and impossible to see it without shedding a tear. Even as the end credit roles, The Father leaves you at a loss for words.

Published on September 08, 2021

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

  1. Comments will be moderated by The Hindu Business Line editorial team.
  2. Comments that are abusive, personal, incendiary or irrelevant cannot be published.
  3. Please write complete sentences. Do not type comments in all capital letters, or in all lower case letters, or using abbreviated text. (example: u cannot substitute for you, d is not 'the', n is not 'and').
  4. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.
  5. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name, to avoid rejection.