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The Father

Anne has to rush back to her father’s house, as he’s just caused another care worker to resign. He never asked to be looked after, and loudly insists that he is of sound mind. The father (Anthony)’s behaviour is becoming even more of a problem for Anne than before, as she’s met a man and is planning to move to Paris. But Anthony is incapable of looking after himself.

Left alone, Anthony walks through his house to see a man sitting there. Confused, he confronts the man and asks who he is and what are you doing in my house. Quite the reverse, says the man, he is Anne’s husband Paul, and Anthony is a guest in their house. Paul rings Anne, urging her to return as Anthony looks confused in a corner.

A new carer arrives, who Anthony treats better than her predecessors, apparently because she reminds him of his favourite daughter – the one who wasn’t Anne. He gets a little flirty with her and tells her he was a tap dancer when he was younger. She leaves, promising to return the following day, and he looks quite excited at the prospect.

Anne and her husband entertain Anthony for dinner. The husband is still called Paul but looks quite different. Paul and Anne row under their breath, with him telling her that she indulges his father too much, and he belongs in a home. Yet what looks like concern for Anne’s welfare shows itself to be less generous when he confronts Anthony, telling him that because of his behaviour, they’d had to cancel a holiday in Italy.

If you’re looking for continuity errors, they’re there a plenty. Is Anne married or divorced? Is she planning to go to Paris? (she denies this later to Anthony). Is the house that they’re living in Anthony’s or Anne’s? These errors have been deliberately put there, giving us a sense of Anthony’s increasingöy addled mind. In each scene, we are halfway convinced that what we are watching is authentic, but there’s no way that it can all be true.

The way in which we are made complicit in Anthony’s disease feels a little stagey – the whole thing is based on a stage play by director Florian Zeller, and it shows. I’m not sure whether this a good or bad thing. Films which are obviously based on plays enhance the Alienation Effect which encourages you to contemplate what you are watching. At the same time, when we see Anthony Hopkins giving a great performance, it feels just like that – a performance.

This is a particular problem, as the film has set itself up to show us what dementia looks like. But, for much of the time, we are watching not a figure with Alzheimers but Anthony Hopkins playing a figure with Alzheimers. So when Anthony breaks down in tears, we are more minded to treat this as a Great Actor doing his weeping bits than to feel empathy with the fictional Anthony.

I have another minor quibble (a variation of a point already made by Mark Kermode). Anthony lives in an opulent flat. He obviously had a Very Important job. The intimation is that his mental deterioration is more tragic than most. Yet exactly how far does he fall? By the end, he is in a home with several nursing staff who care for him every day, one of whom is there at his beck and call to take him for walks when he’s sociable enough.

My grandmother ended up in a state nursing home, and spent her last days in a room full of people, some of whom had lost their relationship to reality, others who had nowhere else to go. Dozens of them sat in the edge of a room staring at each other, and trying to shout above the hubbub to be heard by their occasional visitors. The nursing staff were too overworked and stressed to have time for any walks in the past.

Anthony’s fall is seen as being tragic because he once had a great mind. But who is to judge the minds of the working class people who shared a large, lonely room with my grandmother? Who is to judge my grandmother? Her end was much more depressing, much more tragic than being waited on by nurses in a private home.

There has been a recent run on films about dementia, and they all seem to have concentrated on the comfortably off. This shows either a lack of vision, or a lack of will on the side of Hoilywood (or equivalent) financiers.

Ultimately, we should judge the film that we see before us. And there is much to appreciate in the Father, particularly in the way it disorientates us to make us emphasise with the increasing disorientation in Anthony’s mind, The Father is a very well made film. and of course it is superbly acted. In terms of the type of film it is, it is exemplary. If only the film industry were prepared to take more risks in the type of film it produces….

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