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The Father review: As a man helplessly disappearing, Anthony Hopkins is magnificently present

The Father review: What do you do with the abiding love and the constant guilt of abandoning a life that brought you into life? It's one of the hardest places to be.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Written by Shubhra Gupta | New Delhi |
Updated: April 17, 2021 8:41:56 am
The Father movie review, the fatherThe Father movie review: Anthony Hopkins delivers an acting master-class in this movie. (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)

The Father movie cast: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Imogen Poots, Mark Gatiss, Rufus Sewell, Olivia Williams
The Father movie director: Florian Zeller
The Father movie rating: 4 stars

You smile when you get to know that the character played by Anthony Hopkins is called, well, Anthony. Did it come from director Florian Zeller’s play, on which the film is based, and whose screenplay he co-wrote? Or was it from the actor himself? Either way, both as conceit and fact, it is spot on. As is Hopkins as the old man losing his mind in Zeller’s debut feature, ‘The Father’.

The film opens with Anthony wandering about a large, exquisitely-appointed flat in London. At first glance, all seems fine, but within a few minutes, a sense of Anthony’s disorientation starts becoming visible. In an increasingly testy conversation with his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman), we learn that he has chased away several care-givers because he doesn’t believe he needs any help. As Anthony moves around different spots — living room, dining table, kitchen — we see both a lived-in familiarity and a strangeness in his gaze, as it rests upon people whom he cannot recognise. The only object that he seems to remember is, ironically, his watch which he keeps misplacing; he is no longer the master of his time.

We are our memories. Once we begin losing them, we begin disintegrating. Hopkins delivers an acting master-class in the way his Anthony’s edges are softening, and his centre collapsing, as he desperately tries to hold on to a life as he has known it. He does it with a mixture of vulnerability and irascibility, bluster and charm, and it is this struggle that Anne recognises and respects. As the new caregiver, who is taken in by Anthony’s roguish twinkle when they first meet, and who then begins to feel out of her depth, Imogen Poots is very good. And Colman is wonderful as the daughter who is empathetic to her father’s condition, and yet knows that she can no longer handle it on her own. What do you do with the abiding love and the constant guilt of abandoning a life that brought you into life? It’s one of the hardest places to be.

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The film is, by necessity, a chamber drama, playing out mostly in the flat. But as it goes along, we see how a fraying mind can play tricks upon itself: is Anthony seeing what we see? Through its device of having two actors play the same person (Anne, briefly, has another face, as does her husband, played by Sewell/Gattiss), sometimes the film seems to be too clever. Confusion is fine, but it can get confounded by too many loops. But we forgive these minor stylistic choices, because it never takes recourse to mawkishness, or overt sentimentality, as it keeps its eye on Anthony: the cruelty of dementia is shared, not just by the person suffering from it, but also by those who love them the most.

Up until now, my favourite Hopkin’s performance has been David Lynch’s 1980 ‘The Elephant Man’. But this may now edge past because it shows as an actor managing the impossible: as a man helplessly disappearing, Hopkins is always, magnificently present.

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