Dementia is an assault on the identity and memory of an individual from within and without; deeply traumatic for all caught up in its sphere of desolation. In The Father (2021), because of dementia’s nature, what in essence is a harrowing drama, descends into horror as the disintegration of the father’s person provokes - and protracts - a more primal anxiety: the finality of death’s erasure.
Director Florian Zeller has created an unmistakingly French film in its sincerity and unflinching approach to taboo material. There is no dialing down or sugar coating here. An empathetic audience braces as mounting hardships overwhelm the daughter, Anne. There is a fine line between experiencing a film and enduring one: The Father treads this tightrope with reckless abandon.
Visually, Zeller utilises lighting as a motif for encroaching oblivion; doors and corridors are carefully shot to chart the psychogeography of the father’s ailing memory. Deliberately framing shots and choosing locations that meld into one another seamlessly, Zeller’s vision collapses recollection into the hallways of the real.
The cast excels in their deeply moving portrayals of people suffering the father’s decline. It’s unfortunate for the support actors that Anthony Hopkins is determined to end his acting career on an absolute tear. At 83, real-life Hopkins has a joie de vivre that most people half his age lack, so it’s particularly inspiring to see him nail a role utterly devoid of hope.
The Father successfully captures the throes of an enfeebled man grappling with the illusions, detours and bemusement that festers in a mind struggling to synchronise with daily life. Although pervasively dark in tone, the film is spirited in its Nietzschean affirmation of the totality of life as it lucidly ruminates on the realities of infirmity and death; topics all too often skirted around, virtualized, and outright denied by the Western ‘cope’ that is youth worship.