Not so much a movie as it is an immersive experience, Florian Zeller's The Father is a jutting eroteme on the efficacy of memory. Who are we if not a collection of all that we have been? And will we 'be' at all were this crutch of recollection to slip?
Imagine waking up one day, devoid of your personal history as the soft light of dawn (failingly) consoles you. Imagine losing all sense of time and space, until the same day seemingly ensconces you in its endless variations. This visceral emotionality of stepping into an afflicted person's head is brought to life by Anthony Hopkins's stellar performance. The viewer is left reeling with the implicit question of whether our lives are a mere anticipation of amnesia and eternal decay.
'Last scene of all/That ends this strange eventful history/Is second childishness and mere oblivion/Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything', so sings Shakespeare of the swan song of man, and these grim trebles of old age resonate down the centuries in The Father's stunning screenplay. You start out as confused as the protagonist and as the deliberate obfuscation gives way to irritation, you begin to realise that this warped screenplay is in fact the world reflected through Anthony's shattered psyche.
That is the genius of Zeller: he takes deeply human experiences of ageing and oblivion, that are at once so common and yet obdurately ignored in everyday life (a coping mechanism against the prospects of decay?), and pushes the viewers with no caveat into the throes of their worst fear. By the time you realise what is happening, you are too far in to back off. Is there any doubt then that the central theme of The Father grows on you slowly for days after you have watched it?
If you have ever sat through a 5-D show, you would be familiar with the emotional solidarity that The Father evokes: you are not just a viewer but in fact a dormant component of the protagonist's own personhood, sitting inside his head and interpreting his predicament through the lens of your own suppressed fears of ageing, decay, and death. This movie is exemplary of a rare cinema that actually places you within the film.
As age mounts, so sinks mortality beneath its weight, until all that is left is first, the cobwebs of mind, and then, the dust of abandonment that was once a human being. At its heart, Zeller's tale is one of terror, an unflinching portrait of the loss of self that age brings along. Are you sympathising with the protagonist alone or with the confounded fate bestowed upon all mankind? You might even go off on a long tirade against the purpose of such an unveiling of the human condition from the deepest recesses of pretence to the contrary, but at the end of the day, the filmmaker is only perfecting the art of bringing cinema as close to life as possible. And he proves pretty adept at doing so.
Should the viewer be angered by the realism of The Father, then surely it would be a success for the filmmaker's bold endeavour at unearthing the vast chasm of the human psyche and portraying the universally relatable rage of a human at being hurled into the uncertainty that the years and eventual demise bring along.
The movie carries a subtext of cold, withdrawn violence, be it in the sundering of Anthony from his own spirit, a bloodless disaffection that is heart-wrenching to watch, or the disorienting sequences that hint at elderly abuse. Every shade of loss inherent to old age is well covered by the movie. One wonders if Anthony Hopkins was in fact exploring his own fears of the approaching twilight years through his namesake. Whatever be the source of his inspiration, it culminates into a powerful performance.
The Father is a must-watch for anyone who has ever feared losing themselves or spent sleepless nights clashing against the uncertainty of age. A bittersweet nostalgia awaits those who have seen the turbulence of the ageing process therein closely in their own loved ones.