Monday With Mildred: “The Father”

The Father movie poster.

The Father

A family member wanted me to watch this movie, which I had not heard of, and after reading the description decided I didn’t want to watch. But I’m a marshmallow, so of course I put this on my queue and waited two weeks for Netflix to send me a disk that wasn’t broken completely in two.

Based on a stage play of the same name, The Father follows the life of a very old man living in a very nice apartment in London. His daughter, Anne (Olivia Colman, The Favorite, The Crown), tries hard to take care of him though he can be difficult. Anthony (Anthony Hopkins, The Lion in Winter, Silence of the Lambs) has driven away yet another carer by accusing her of stealing his watch. Anne tries to tell her father that she’s moving to Paris and he needs to stop driving people away because he can’t live alone and she can’t stay. His life becomes increasingly confusing as people he doesn’t know invade his beloved space, and he keeps waiting for his younger daughter to show up.

Movies based on stage plays can easily become static, especially when almost all the action occurs in five rooms in the center of a large city. Occasionally there is a peep out the windows to the outside world, and in one dreamlike sequence Anthony goes out of the apartment. This movie walks a fine line between stagey and film-like, and it’s the art direction that makes this movie work. It’s not obvious, but the apartment changes as Anthony goes through his own changes. I didn’t begin to really notice it until later in the movie and was impressed by how powerful the subtle changes were and was very impressed when I finally did. More noticeably but still subtle and powerful are the changes in Anthony’s appearance, especially his clothing. I noticed the music, which isn’t always a good thing, but this time the increasingly unsettling sounds were just subtle enough to not intrude, and very effective.

Not knowing a lot about the film before watching – the best way to experience a movie – I was suspicious of some of the scenes where people he doesn’t know show up in his apartment. I had a couple of Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte moments before realizing that it is, indeed, just a movie about a person devolving into the maw of dementia. Writer/director Florian Zeller either did a lot of research or has experience with this situation. Everything rang true, from accusations and confusion to mistrust and perceived meanness.

Anthony Hopkins is, as always, exceptional in the role. The slide into his mind’s fracturing never got out of order and became actually painful to watch. Olivia Colman is her typical amazing self and you can see her pain, and her delight mixed with guilt when Anthony occasionally expresses affection to his second favorite daughter. She loves him and wants to do right by him, but a person simply cannot do it alone and she knows that when she finally has to do the right thing by him he won’t understand. That’s a really tough thing to come to terms with, as anyone who has been there understands.

This is a beautifully crafted film, in every aspect. Nothing is out of place, and there is plenty of genius to enjoy. That is, if you can manage to enjoy the movie. I found myself appreciating how well done the film is, while not enjoying at all the actual story. This is super depressing from every angle, especially if you have any experience with dementia. I recommend it as an example of a finely crafted film, but be aware there are no happy times to be found at all.


CFR: In Addition: Well, I’m glad Mildred watched and reviewed this. Not at all surprised that it is a masterpiece of acting. Hopkins and Coleman and both fantastic actors. I am just glad I didn’t watch it because well, my Dad had early onset dementia and wow, people, it is no fun. I have so much sympathy with and for everyone who suffers from this or knows people who do. Being a caretaker of someone with dementia is rough.

Thanks Mildred! You are the BEST!

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