“LDon’t piss me off, don’t piss me off baby! “says King Lear, a plea that is overwhelmingly sad because it can never be heard by anyone with the power to grant it. Anthony Hopkins, who played Lear in the BBC production of Richard Eyre, now delivers another performance as a sick patriarch with a favorite daughter with nowhere to stay, in a film directed by Florian Zeller and adapted by Christopher Hampton from the award-winning Zeller film. play. There is excruciating heartbreak in this film, for which Hopkins has become the Oscar winner for the oldest actor in history, and also a genuine fear, like something you might experience when watching Repulsion by Roman Polanski or The Sixth Sense of M Night Shyamalan.
Hopkins is Anthony, a mischievous, handsome and curmudgeonly old widower, a retired engineer who lives alone in a spacious and well-equipped apartment in West London, and receives regular visits from his affectionate and exasperated daughter Anne, who plays in the tune more high. Olivia Colman’s intelligence and insight.
But things are very bad, because Anthony has dementia. He is subject to mood swings and temper fits related to his sudden terror of not being able to understand what is happening. His behavior has already caused his existing caregiver to leave, and now Anne tells him that he just has to move on with the new one, Laura (Imogen Poots). This is because Anne, after the end of her marriage to Paul (Rufus Sewell), whom we will introduce ourselves to later, has finally found a new partner and the chance at happiness she deserves. She goes abroad with him and can no longer take care of Anthony.
What’s so scary about The Father is that, without obvious first-person camera tricks, it gets us inside Anthony’s head. We see and do not see what he sees and does not see. We are intelligently invited to assume that certain passages of dialogue are actually happening, and then we are shown that they are not. We experiment with Anthony, step by step, what appears to be the progressive deterioration of his condition, disorienting slippages and time loops. People become other people; situations are elided; the furniture in the apartment seems to change suddenly and disconcertingly; a scene that seemed to follow sequentially to the previous one turns out to have preceded it, or to be Anthony’s illusion or his memory of something else. And new people, people you don’t recognize (played by Mark Gatiss and Olivia Williams) keep showing up at your apartment and answering you with that same sweet smile of patience when you ask what they’re doing there. The universe is lighting Anthony with these people.
Anthony is, of course, different from Lear in one particular: he does not know what is happening to him or what has happened to him. Things have gone too far. But Hopkins shows how the awareness of his previous existence is still there on a deeper, almost physical level, and sometimes resurfaces in his devastatingly contrite little apologies to Anne. And a scene with Paul where Anthony freaks out and whines shows us that there are things Anne doesn’t know about Anthony’s life.
Hopkins’s final speech to Williams is the one that reduced me to a tearful mess. But the most subtly moving moments are those when Anthony will laugh, a glimpse of his old mischievous and charming self, and Anne and her caretaker will laugh in solidarity with him. To some extent, it is a nervous laugh because Anne knows how easily it can change your mood, and it is also the laugh of a professional caregiver, and a strained tragicomic laugh, the laugh you make instead of cry. But it’s also a perfectly genuine kind of laugh and, in its own way, an urgent and shared gesture of faith in the person that Anthony was and occasionally still is.
The Father has some of Michael Haneke’s Amour in its one-apartment setting, and also some of Alan Ayckbourn’s 1985 play Woman in Mind, in which the heroine withdraws from reality. Its effects are essentially theatrical, but they are achieved with force, and the performances of Hopkins and Colman are excellent. It is a movie about pain and what it means to cry for someone who is still alive.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism