Don’t You Forget About Me
By Sadira Sittampalam
The Father is a 2020 film directed by Florian Zeller, following an aging man, Anthony, who must deal with his progressing memory loss. Anthony’s daughter Anne is unable to make daily visits as she used to as she plans on moving to Paris with her new partner, however, Anthony refuses any help, claiming to be perfectly fine by himself. This film is a brutal and engaging breakdown of exactly what goes on in the mind of someone with dementia. While its premise, on the surface, seems like somewhat of a drag, the way in which it is done is so compelling, it ends up leaving you just as emotionally exhausted and disoriented as Anthony, conveying just how powerful cinema can be.
This film is presented primarily from the viewpoint of Anthony. We see him talk to his daughter, refuse her help, refuse outside help and insist that he is perfectly fine alone in his apartment. However, by the next scene we start questioning whether that actually was his daughter and whether it even is his apartment. The film presses on in its drama so continuously, that you rarely realise that there is so much more going on under the surface. Its simplicity is manipulative as you think that this is a pretty dialogue-driven piece of art and while this is true, there are many instances where you see a lot of visual hints that point you in the right direction of the narrative. Nevertheless, it is only by the ending, when you are able to see the entire story, that you can grasp how well the story is crafted together.
This was all complemented by the editing which had such perfect transitions to truly emphasise how normal dementia feels to the person experiencing it, but how disorienting it can be when faced with people that surround you. The production design also changed around with it, with certain objects being there one second and gone or altered the next. It helped really sink in how easily you fall into this disease and succumb to the small changes that never feel drastic, but are nevertheless significant. It sneaks up on the audience as you wonder, “Oh, but wasn’t that the door to his room?” or “Were their light fixtures there or did I imagine it?”
You are put straight in the shoes of Anthony and his condition and so you are never prepared for what comes next, making this film extremely unpredictable. Thus, the story is very slowly pieced together, making you wait quite a bit to find out more pertinent bits of information. I feel like Zeller did a fantastic job of making the film confusing and disorienting in its overall narrative, while keeping every individual scene absorbing and engrossing in the way that it developed its characters and relationships. While I’ve seen quite a few depictions of dementia/Alzheimer's in movies and TV shows, nothing compares to this film in how terrifying it actually is. Even documentaries I’ve watched about dementia haven’t fully captured how acutely horrifying that constant feeling of disorientation is like. This really made this film quite an emotional experience as you completely understand what Anthony is going through in his confusion and even in his self-denial that anything is wrong. His daughter’s reactions in particular were entirely devastating as you can see how compassionate she tries to be despite her frustration.
Anthony Hopkins, who plays Anthony, was truly a tour-de-force in this role, giving you everything you need in a performance like this while never seeming as though he was demanding sympathy for the character, as quite a lot of actors tend to do in such emotional roles. He just played the part through all of its bends and curves allowing us to viscerally understand what Anthony must be feeling in all his faults and strengths. As an 83 year old actor, I have an immense amount of respect for the vigour Hopkins displayed in this film, emphasising how dedicated he is to his craft and how he shows no real signs of slowing down just yet. Meanwhile, Anthony’s daughter Anne, played by Olivia Colman was also terrific, having such a large part to play in conveying the devastation you feel to watch someone you love lose all understanding of what is going on around them. She had so many standout moments that consisted of pretty simple moments where she tried to hold back her tears or smile where something looked slightly off about it, which all subtly depicted how hurt she was.
As Zeller’s directorial debut, this is an impressive feat. While I expected this movie to be just another Oscar-bait movie, it was actually a really intense experience that is so uniquely presented with a powerful story and amazing performances. Hopkins is truly one of the best actors alive today and this is definitely a film you should check out if you like unconventional movies. Unlike the main character, this is a film that I will not be forgetting anytime soon.