The Father is a deep-dive into the altered reality that many dementia patients must endure in the course of their lives which only gets progressively worse
The Father is a compelling account of a man grappling with dementia and how the condition compromises his ability to keep up with the world around him while his concerned daughter struggles to maintain a strong front.
In a pertinent scene from this film, we find a daughter who has consistently provided for her dementia-stricken geriatric father, cleaning up after a meal. While she seems to be acutely affected by her father’s affliction, she rarely lets her feelings surface. But when she accidentally drops a cup that smashes to the ground, she breaks down completely. It’s a heart-churning scene as the concerned daughter had, up until this point, remained opaque about her father’s damaged state even though it deeply affected her. This is followed by a terse delusionary sequence where she imagines taking a drastic step to end her own misery and possibly that of her father’s. Going by the series of events that precede this scene, considering such an extreme measure oddly seems to bear a twisted rationale.
Florian Zeller’s The Father is the second screen adaptation of the French playwright’s own play Le Père, following the French comedy-drama Floride (2015) directed by Philippe Le Guay. It is a deep-dive into the altered reality that many dementia patients must endure in the course of their lives which only gets progressively worse with each passing day.
The story centers around Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), a geriatric dementia patient, and his daughter Anne (Olivia Coleman) who dotes on him. The film opens to a mundane scene where Anne arrives at her father’s apartment and complains about how no caregiver was willing to stick around and put up with his belligerent attitude. The elderly gent only snaps back and accuses the said nurse of having nipped his wristwatch. He vehemently believes that he doesn’t need a carer and going by his demeanour, one would agree with him for a moment. But soon enough, it becomes evident that the man is crumbling away in small yet perceptible increments.
As the film progresses, we learn more about Anthony’s decaying mental state and his struggle with processing and recollecting major life events, names and even faces. And the extent of his affliction ranges from mildly unsettling to positively distressing. There are light moments too, particularly those where despite being stripped of his memories, he manages to cling on to his personality which sustains through the ordeal almost as if a part of him were in denial. For instance, the scene where he informs a caregiver who reminds him of his younger daughter that he used to be a tap dancer and even breaks into a jig to demonstrate that he still has the chops. But just when you feel that he’s coming around, his degenerative state impacts his motor skills and in a scene, we actually find him struggling to slip into a sweater. His daughter helps him out and he thanks her profusely, almost overcome with gratitude for being assisted in an everyday task. His state, as is inevitable with those suffering from the condition, only progressively deteriorates and there’s a point when even coherence seems like an unattainable virtue.
Hopkins, who has already bagged the Academy Award for Best Actor for this film, has pulled off one of his career’s most compelling performances. In his illustrious career, the 83-year-old actor has often raised the bar, essaying a range of self-assured, intimidating, and rather sinister characters on screen. To see him here in a compromised state, uncertain and floundering to construct a sentence and eventually, bawling like a baby is heart-breaking and one can closely pick up on his character’s state of mind. And managing to wordlessly convey a character’s innermost thoughts and feelings has to be the ultimate testament of an actor’s abilities and this is something Hopkins excels in. Coleman, as the doting daughter who is concerned and distraught in equal measure, is just as compelling, particularly in the scenes where Anne struggles to accept her father’s reality.
The Father allows one to vicariously experience the precarious state that one is reduced to when suffering from dementia and sensitises one to the frustration and helplessness synonymous with the condition. It’s a must-watch that renders a crippling effect by elaborately translating the protagonist’s predicament across the screen.