Dementia becomes the most startling literary device in The Father, Florian Zeller’s adaptation of his own play. Deeply probing, the film operates within the mind of an ailing elderly man, played by an incredibly Anthony Hopkins. Given the state of his mind, his function in the film exists as though he were an unreliable visual narrator. Present and past intermingle, as his spurious notions of people, places, and thing fade out of reality. It is a kind of theater of the mind, a film unique unto itself, a new work about the inner machinations of the dementia-inflicted mind.
The Father stars two of the best working actors. We have never seen Anthony Hopkins so revealing, in such an emotionally revealing role, where the film depends entirely upon his acting acumen for everything else to go off right. With gifted theatricality, we believe his every stutter, every lapse of memory, that leaves us grasping for plot and formal function, while the film dangles its reality out of site.
And dementia is not a single victim illness. The whole family suffers the terrible tragedy, the loss of the mind. Anthony Hopkins may perform expertly but he is equally matched by the character of his daughter, played by Olivia Colman, once again proving herself as one of our finest, can’t-miss actors. Her nurturing of her father, eyes welling and face contorting with the full range of emotional responses. Her acting is so intuitive, so fully realized, so instinctual, that it hardly feels like acting anymore, but a series of deeply-felt empathetic actions that shine as the most lovely as any actions found on the year’s screens.
Playing with perspective is one thing. Zeller is able to rewrite the book. Characters and setting shift in and out of place. Cinematographer Ben Smithard ensures that it all works. We do not always know who the character is in the room with him. Whether past and present have mixed up faces and events. There are several sequences of terrifying unmemory. Where the audience knows just as little as our character. Nothing has ever so deeply fixated itself within the perspective of a memory condition and come away with anything so distinctly valuable, as to feel as though we have lived the experience, and absolutely internalized what it must mean and feel like, only with the ability to end the film.
The Father is a resounding, deeply impactful success. It moves the audience through forced perspective, constantly shifting the context of the screen and what it all means. Living in an apartment that becomes a memory prison, the old man grasps onto his watch, sometimes having it, sometimes having misplaced it, holding onto one token of memory he can trust. With two astounding performances and a breakout debut filmmaker with a stunning sense of vision and a spatial relationship to time and place, The Father may be one of the most memorable performance-driven films of modern times. You must remember this.