“The Father” is as close to dementia as any of us would ever care to get. And yet, thanks to longevity that has turned recent generations into the longest-lived in history, it is touching more lives than ever.
French playwright Florian Zeller, adapting his play, and his peerless star Anthony Hopkins visualize the confusion, paranoia, panic and flashes of sentience that characterize Alzheimer’s and senility’s other variations, both from outside and within.
Oscar winner Olivia Colman is the daughter witnessing this collapse from outside, struggling to prepare her widowed, solitary father for the idea of a nursing home. At the very least, Anne wants him to go easier on the in-care help she keeps arranging and whom his tirades chase away.
“Anthony” is raging against “the dying of the light.” “I don’t need her. I don’t need anyone!” He’s at home in his large, comfy flat with his opera
CDs and his books. Why all the fuss?
“She’s stealing from me!” he hisses about the latest caregiver he’s run off.
But no matter how focused his fury, how articulate his defenses, he’s losing his memory. He’s mixing up conversations and people. He’s even confused, here and there, about what Anne looks like. Olivia Colman? Or is she another woman played by Olivia Williams? He tries to hide it, but we see his panic over this.
This “man” she’s met and planning on leaving London to live with in Paris — does he look like Rufus Sewell or this other fellow (Mark Gatiss)?
Is Anne leaving at all? Is she still with her husband? Did this conversation happen? Or that one? Is she gaslighting him, even if he can’t recall the term or the movie that it’s from?
From Anthony’s point of view, things he remembers that day or a day or two ago are being altered.
“She told me the other day. I’m not an idiot!”
Time is running in an ever-changing loop. Has he chased away his last in-home nurse, or are they just now interviewing another (Imogen Poots)?
“Can I ask you a question? Are you a nun? Then why are you speaking to me as if I’m retarded?”
Of course Hopkins can make us sense the panic, the long-retired engineer capable of mood swings of great charm, losing it, panic-stricken as he tries to hide that fact by covering up that he doesn’t know who this person he no longer recognizes is. And what about younger daughter Lucy, “the artist?”
“I hardly ever hear from the other one.”
Colman gives us glimpses of the heartache and guilt a child feels over being unable to do more for a parent that has become more than a mere relative can handle.
Other characters give us flashes of patience and compassion, and withering cruelty and callousness. Is Anthony imagining these, or are some of his grievances against the world legitimate?
Zeller uses the confines of a couple of sets well, revealing a few more square feet here and there as he goes along, letting the real estate reveal Anthony’s real state. It’s not a play that’s been “opened up.” “The Father” is all about a world closing in.
Demographics and the slow pace of medical improvements in gerantology make “The Father” a story with universal appeal. It’s universally chilling and sad, because no one would wish this on themselves or anybody else.
And Hopkins, Colman, Williams, Sewell and Poots give us an eyeful and and earful of a fate awaiting far too many of us in this quietly gripping and intimate drama.
MPA Rating: PG-13 for some strong language, and thematic material
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Rufus Sewell, Olivia Williams, Imogen Poots, Ayesha Dharker and Mark Gatiss.
Credits: Directed by Florian Zeller, script by Christopher Hampton and Florian ZEller, based on Zeller’s play. A Sony Pictures Classics release.
Running time: 1:37