“The Father” is a Poignant Look at the Devastating Reality of Dementia

by Kathryn McDonald

According to the World Health Organization, there are approximately 50 million people worldwide who suffer from dementia, with an additional 10 million new cases each year. These staggering statistics make dementia one of the most common health conditions in elderly populations, with nearly 5-8% of those over the age of 60 experiencing some form of dementia. 

It is little wonder, then, that the recently released film “The Father,” directed by Florian Zeller, garnered so much attention as a stunning and poignant portrait of the stark reality of living with dementia. 

Released to glowing critical reviews back in February, it comes as little surprise that this film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture (Drama). In, Anthony Hopkins won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the film. The film also was recognized as the Best Adapted Screenplay (Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton), further adding to the success of the movie. 

Starring Hopkins (Academy Award Winner for “Silence of the Lambs”) as Anthony, an independent elderly gentleman in his 80’s, and Olivia Colman (“The Favourite,” “The Crown”) as his daughter Anne, this film takes us through the tumultuous downward spiral that accompanies the mental and physical deterioration associated with dementia. Mark Gatiss (“Sherlock,” “Doctor Who”), Imogen Poots (“The Green Room,” “Jane Eyre”), Rufus Sewell (“Judy”), and Olivia Williams (“Victoria and Abdul”) also deserve some attention for their marvelous performances as supporting characters throughout the movie.

As the film opens, audiences are greeted with a delightful soundtrack and a marvelous cast of characters as the story slowly unfolds. The elderly Anthony consistently refuses the help that Anne offers him. As the movie progresses and his decline becomes more apparent, confusion, memory loss and delusions begin to emerge, and the terrifying reality of Anthony’s condition begins to make itself known. 

For many, the unique focus placed on Anne will hit close to home. In her role as caregiver and provider, Anne’s own weariness and concern is quite moving. Struggling with the realization that her father no longer recognizes her, Anne is heartbroken and challenged by the daily decisions that she must make. Her love for her father is apparent, yet the tension between the two inevitably causes distress for both of them. 

It’s a story that audiences will know before they watch the movie but likely one that they will not have experienced at this level until they come face-to-face with this masterpiece of a film. There is no emotional angle that is left undeveloped, and this candid exploration of human suffering marvelously emphasizes the inherent personhood of those suffering from cognitive and mental disorders. 

The structure of the film itself makes the plot somewhat hard to describe. Each scene borrows snippets from the last, and the general deterioration of any sense of reality progresses until the final scene. Like the typical course of dementia, there is no clear onset or introduction; rather, viewers are immediately thrust into the role of attempting to understand the reality of the situation. One twist after another leaves the audience identifying with Anthony’s confusion, and the somewhat abrupt conclusion is likely to leave audiences with more questions than answers. Perhaps that’s the point. 

Altogether, “The Father” is a masterclass in filmmaking and will likely become a classic for its authenticity and stirring performances. Themes such as love, family, and the frightening reality of death emerge as timeless reminders that our lives are but vapors. 

“The Father” is now available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video.

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