Alzheimer’s is probably the disease that scares me the most. Slowly losing yourself and those around you to the point of no return is something that I personally never want to have to put the one I love to go through. Because that is the thing about Alzheimer isn’t it? It doesn’t just affect you. I have seen what the disease does to others, how lives are broken because of it. How do you react when your own parent doesn’t recognize you? It’s a fact that I can’t seem to grapple with, a fact that I just never want to have to deal with. Films have touched on it, most notably Julianne Moore’s Oscar-winning performance in Still Alice, but never like The Father. Because the film showcases the disease as its own character, a living and breathing organism that destroys everything it touches. It’s a take that by the end, leaves you breathless and crying as you try to grapple with what you just witnessed.
Florian Zeller’s adaptation of his own play, The Father, is a devastating look at Alzheimer’s anchored by incredible performances from Oscar Winners Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs) and Olivia Colman (The Favourite). The premise of The Father can feel familiar, it’s not groundbreaking really, but instead, it’s the way the story is told. The Father is about a man, Anthony, (Hopkins) who refuses all assistance from his daughter, Anne, (Colman) as he ages. As he tries to make sense of his changing circumstances, he begins to doubt his loved ones, his own mind and even the fabric of his reality. The way the story is elevated? By making the disease a character, telling the story through the perspective of a man who slowly loses his grip on reality and, just like we are, is trying to figure out what is happening around him.
Non-linear storytelling is always difficult and tricky because one wrong move and the card castle will crumble and nothing will make sense. But when you tell a story of a man slowly losing his mind and make the decision to tell it from his perspective, you have to be careful. Yes, at times it is difficult to understand what is happening in The Father and more than once I found myself saying out loud how confused I was, but it is normal. You are supposed to, you are supposed to have no bearings and wonder what you are witnessing. Because Anthony is slowly losing his own bearings, he has no idea what is happening, so we don’t either. We learn a little more just like he does, every time someone tells him something, we finally see what is happening around us, we understand. It’s a way of telling a story that feels fresh and instead of being looking in from the outside, we are inside everything, experiencing alongside him instead of witnessing it.
Colman and Hopkins don’t need introductions, we have witnessed their greatness for a while now, but sometimes, a film is there to remind you how great they truly are. Any other years, they would both be my frontrunners for the Oscars, but in a year with so many amazing and career-defining performances, they just aren’t. Olivia Colman is one of the finest working actresses of her generation. The way she blends different genres with so little effort, the way she can go from one moment having you in laughs to another crying, it’s incredible to watch. And then you add Anthony Hopkins, who delivers a performance that reminds you just how great he is. Slowly the illness takes over him and he becomes a shell of the men he once was, but Hopkins still delivers these little moments of conscience, showing how he is still there even with all of this. But by the end, as the camera lands on him one final time, and he delivers one of the most gut-wrenching sequences of the film, you are reminded that you are watching a master at work, a man who with just a few little words can bring you to tears and break you down. This is what Anthony Hopkins does, he breaks you down and by the end, as Anthony cries, you cry alongside him.
Sometimes you watch a film and can’t help but relate it to your own life. This movie reminded me of my own grandfather. My grandfather is the most French man you will ever meet. He is the definition of Old French Men, this man with a thick french accent who loves to complain but also has this charm about him. As I watched The Father, I couldn’t help but see him in Anthony. I could tell that the writer/director is French just by the way he was written. This film might take place in London with a British man at the center, but this is the most French British man that ever existed.
A film is supposed to make you emote, to bring you to a place that you otherwise wouldn’t go to. This is what Florian Zeller does with his directorial debut. The Father breaks you down piece by piece, makes you question your reality, makes you question everything and by the end, you stand there, in tears, as the screen turns to black. You witnessed a piece of art, a piece of cinema that stays with you. As you watch Anthony not only lose himself but also his family, you break. Piece by piece, the puzzle reveals itself to you, but even then, it isn’t enough to make you whole again. Because you might finally understand but at what cost. This is a film that instead of just making you witness Alzheimer’s it decides to make you live it. By the end, just like Anthony, you can’t help but feel like a shell of what you once were. But unlike him, you can move on…
Now if you excuse me, I will go call my grandpa.