The term ‘circle of life’ is often tossed around in books, literature, periodicals and movies. We are born with a constant need for care, help and support and, more often than not, we retreat to the same characteristics in our advanced years. And this is not just limited to the physiological requirements: our psychological frame of mind also becomes quite childish and cranky. Thus, in essence, we complete a ‘full circle’ and almost become the same version of ourselves that we were when born. This very thought forms the fulcrum of The Father.
The Father primarily follows the life of Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) and his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) as they deal with the onset of Anthony’s dementia. However, what separates The Father from any other sloppy drama about death and solitude is the treatment. Within 15 minutes of the film, we are immersed in the perplexity and incomprehension that accompanies dementia. The film places us directly in the delusional disorientation of dementia patients; we empathise with Anthony in his disbelief and helplessness. But at its core, The Father talks to us about the petulance of old age.
Ageing is a very peculiar phenomenon. As children, the prospect of ageing excites us for the fertility of independence, but as adults, the prospect of ageing disappoints us for the fear of dependence. Much like children, as we grow older, stubbornness is re-instated in us. Anthony exists in this very zone. There is a dreadful sense of insecurity that builds within him. He is very protective of his possessions, such as his watch, his apartment and, most prominently, his pride. He staunchly refuses to accept that he needs help. He constantly wants to know the time, perhaps as a reference to how much ‘time’ he has left. However, despite this hard-crusted exterior, Anthony has a perpetual fear of abandonment. He discreetly yearns for the presence of his daughters, while still maintaining a façade of self-reliance. Anne, on the other hand, is a daughter who wants to take absolute care of her father but is disintegrating internally on seeing her father lose his sanity. She covets her father’s approval and worthiness. She smiles as her father compliments her for all the efforts that she puts in, and that makes the entire struggle worthwhile for her. Yet, the irony is that she is as helpless as her father in not knowing what to do or how to reach out.
The Father has one of the best casts, one one can only dream of. Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman sink their teeth incredibly well into the flesh and bones of their character. Anthony is a character that requires the actor to portray fear, insecurity, pride, disillusionment and warmth in equal measure and it is fascinating to see Anthony Hopkins pull it off effortlessly. He oscillates between tense moments of sheer anger and helpless dismay with absolute finesse. His performance in the very last scene in the film is bound to go down as one of the most incredibly performed acting sequences ever. Anne is a very complex character who loves her father and seeks his validation despite his occasional inadvertently offensive remarks, and Olivia Colman makes it look like a cakewalk. She impeccably conveys the patience and the emotional restraint involved when one has to care of one’s parents. Director and writer Florian Zeller skilfully constructs the delusion and dread that accompanies old age. He manages to create a tense rhythm to the screenplay that intelligently shifts between that of a dark psychological thriller and one of a poignant tale. With few characters and fewer locations, The Father is a film that has been very neatly envisioned and yet conveys its heavy heart to all of us without any compromises. Personally, I believe that Florian Zeller ought to have been nominated for the Academy Award for Direction.
In the final minutes of the film, during a very poignant scene, Anthony tells the nurse, “I feel as though I am losing all my leaves,” and the last shot in the film is that of a huge tree in the prime of its youth with thick branches and vibrantly green leaves. I believe that director Florian Zeller conjures a comparison between the life of a man and that of a tree, from a sapling to a robust and magnificent tree and how gradually, over time, it ‘loses all its leaves’ and dies. Similarly, The Father is a startlingly uncomfortable reminder that as we advance in age and wisdom, we retract in independence and power; we ‘complete a circle’ and return to where we started.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.