REVIEW: Time is Treacherous in ‘The Father’ (2021)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“Hopkins is majestuous, and as convincing as can be, delivering one of the most memorable performances of his career, alongside Olivia Colman, whose performance is as endearing as it is genuine.”

Director Florian Zeller gives Christopher Nolan a run for his money in this time-warping, unsettling film.

The titular Father, Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) lives in his own apartment, receiving periodical visits from his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman), who insists on him getting help for his day to day life. Anthony is an independent, free-spirited man, and refuses, claiming he is doing perfectly fine on his own. But it doesn’t take long to notice his memory seems to be failing him; he forgets where he put his watch, has some trouble remembering names, and seems paranoid about the nurses his daughter hired stealing from him. And, as we witness Anne tiptoeing her way around him, it becomes evident that this situation has been going on for a while.

The atmosphere shifts when the timeline of the movie becomes unclear; one moment, Anne is leaving for Paris with someone she just met, and the next, there is a stranger in Anthony’s living room, Anne’s supposed husband of ten years, claiming Anne never made such plans. Anthony is at a loss, but pretends to understand, at first, shrugging inconsistencies off as facts he just forgot. But when a woman he doesn’t recognize comes in and calls herself Anne, his convictions intensify; something is wrong. From this point on, he starts to wrestle with the fact that his mind might be failing him, and has a hard time accepting that his reality is no longer as reliable as it once was.

Anthony, portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, standing in his living room, wearing a red robe.
Image courtesy of Lionsgate UK

We witness things from his distorted point of view. This makes for a troubling experience; the events are non-linear, repeating themselves from different perspectives, in a different order than the one we were first presented with. Anthony relives scenes under different circumstances, with faces that change from one moment to the next. It is difficult at times to figure out if the character is clueless, or if he is simply in denial about his situation. As a viewer, we have to make sense of the snippets of information we gather, both from Anthony’s unsound statements and remembrances, and from his family, in order to figure out the wrongs from the rights. Getting a sense of the bigger picture in its most authentic form, and distinguishing the truth from delusion alongside the protagonist becomes a challenging task. Meanwhile, he has to deal with the loss of all stability and certainty, and can hardly keep up with foreign names and the faces of strangers who call themselves family.

We also get a glimpse of what Anne is going through trying her best to accommodate her father. She is visibly wrestling with the toll the situation is taking on her. Olivia Colman’s tear-stricken face is heartbreaking, the face of a woman having to take care of someone who refuses any help. But there is only so much she can manage, and we can’t help but empathise as she deals with the lack of recognition in her father’s eyes, with his constant confusion.

Anne, portrayed by Olivia Colman, sitting on the couch in the living room.
Image courtesy of Lionsgate UK

Part of the movie’s impact lies in the father’s moments of clarity and sweetness, which make his absentmindedness and the decline of his condition that much more painful. Zeller shines a light on dementia, portraying its impact on Anthony and his family. The film is an emotional whirlwind, a thrilling one at that. Each scene flows seamlessly into the next, building to an insidious crescendo in the final moments of the movie. Anthony finally gives into the fear and disorientation that has been creeping up on him throughout the film, worrying about losing “his leaves”. The lines are evocative, a testament to the meticulous writing, courtesy of Christopher Hampton and Zeller’s screenplay, which cultivates for a suffocating, head-spinning atmosphere. Hopkins is majestuous, and as convincing as can be, delivering one of the most memorable performances of his career, alongside Olivia Colman, whose performance is as endearing as it is genuine.

The Father has managed to spin a straight-forward narrative into one of the most effective dramas of this past year. It is a refreshingly precise, hard-hitting film, worthy of its awards praise, securing Florian Zeller as a director to watch.

The Father is on digital download 27 August and Blu-ray/DVD 30 August from Lionsgate UK.

Dir: Florian Zeller

Prod: Trademark Films, F Comme Film, Ciné-@ and Les Films du Cru

Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Mark Gatiss, Olivia Williams, Imogen Poots

Release Date: 2020 at Sundance, global release in 2021