Runtime: 97 minutes
Director: Florian Zeller
Written by: Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller
Stars: Olivia Colman, Anthony Hopkins, Mark Gatiss, Olivia Williams, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell
By Erica Richards
Memory is probably one of the most complicated things we experience as humans. Memory can be strictly information based or it could be solely sensory and emotional. Memory is personal and complicated, memory can also be simple. How we perceive memories differ from others recollections of a shared experience. Memory can create or resolve conflict, it can spark and rejuvenate relationships as well as end them. Maybe this is why so many films center around this one phenomena of the brain.
I have definitely watched a lot of films focused on memory–some of my favorites include Memento (2000), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), and 50 First Dates (2004), but I have never consumed a film regarding memory quite like “The Father” (2020). This film explores space and time and memory in a way that absolutely blew my mind. It takes full advantage of cinema–using the camera and editing to its full advantage. I took note after the film ended, because it is based on a stage play of the same name–how in the world could this be pulled off on stage?
The narrative focuses around an elderly man, Anthony, played by Anthony Hopkins, and his daughter, Anne, played by Olivia Colman, as they navigate his changing circumstances as he falls deeper into dementia. Anthony is extremely charismatic, charming and fun—until he is just flat out not. Anne is empathetic, caring and clearly exhausted by taking on her father’s struggle mostly alone. Anthony Hopkins plays this role with a staggering realness that knocked me off my feet. Olivia Colman is next level with her emotions, and provided so much distinct concentration on her father without losing herself, she brought me to tears more than once in the short film runtime.
The film circles back to previous moments we have already lived alongside the characters who have already lived them, without pointing to it being a memory or an already lived experience until you have a moment of realization that you have been here before. This must be what it is like for people who experience real memory loss–sudden or ongoing. Honestly, it felt almost terrifying it was so unsettling and subtle. The exploration of time, even with something as simple as how long a marriage has lasted, or the committed feeling to being told information that you swear you were already given–when the other person denies it ever happening. You genuinely feel crazy and start to question your sanity. This film and its characters make you feel that way slowly and then so much so that you feel only crazy and as if you have completely lost your mind.
I recommend this film for the amazing piece of filmmaking that it is–from the style and editing, as well as the performances, it is undoubtedly strong which explains why there has been so much discussion about it. I would warn people who have family members that have suffered dementia or Alzheimers to caution when and how they watch this–I can definitely understand that it could trigger many people. I felt triggered and I have never directly dealt with either dementia or Alzheimers, but have experienced watching friends face it with their loved ones.