There’s a Tiktok and Instagram reels video trend named “Tell Me Without Telling Me” where people are asked to tell something without truly showing or telling the something itself to the audience, asking the audience to use their brains and conclude the story themselves. If the challenge is to “Tell me you have dementia without telling me you have dementia”, then Florian Zeller’s ‘The Father’ (2020) would have passed the challenge.
Anthony (Anthony Hopkins. This is not coincidental and purely intended by director Florian Zeller) is your regular old man that you would meet whether in the park or a subway. Even with his old physique he still shows a sign of vigor; robustly until you hear a conversation about him threatening his daytaker physically. Sure, he might be a bit forgetful of the little details and stubborn about his own care, but that’s what you expect from a rigorous man with full of pride doesn’t it? But slowly, from Anthony’s perspective we’re taken to strange events that made Anthony questions about his loved one, his mind and even the concept of reality itself. I won’t spoil it, but it definitely took me off guard for somebody who had known the premise.
Perhaps this is due to Florian Zeller’s take of ‘The Father’ into a mind-numbing thriller rather than being your excessive melodrama film. As we’re being forced into the perspective of Anthony, we as the audience also start to question the surroundings. I, myself, start to ask if “my” daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) is real or just another fabrication of “my” mind. Or perhaps, she’s plotting to leave “me” and start to play this nonsense game to “myself”? However, these imposed questions could be different from the audience sitting beside me, putting information in an ambiguous state and letting the mind (with personal experience taken into account) to convey the information.
‘The Father’ is a film adapted from a stage play ‘Le Père’ (2012), written by the director Florian Zeller as well. The nature it came from made the film look stagy, similar to the obvious commercial look that it came from the shooting set. Zeller works this to the film’s advantage however, giving a claustrophobic atmosphere to the film that works well with the theme of memory loss. Heck, I can’t even remember how much loss I am with the details despite the majority of running time taking place in Anthony’s flat himself. This could be due to the performance of the cast, especially Anthony Hopkins himself who had given one of his best (or perhaps the best ones) in his career.
Throughout the entire film, I was all focused on Anthony Hopkins strong, yet deeply fragile performance. There’s just something very human, innocent, childlike in nature despite having outpaced most of mankind’s life on Earth, making his unsympathetic personality to actually move my sympathetic heart into empathy. Olivia Colman’s performance also deserves praise as she blurred the line between a caring daughter with a vibe of threatening complexion. It has been long since I keep my defenses up towards a character in the film, and Colman’s performance does deliver.
Even with all the praise, the highest prestige must come to Florian Zeller’s screenplay. There’s no sign of built-up scenes to lure the audience into melancholic emotions. Instead, we’re asked to patiently wait until those emotions built-up into an explosive one. It could be slow and confusing sometimes, but that’s the point; our perspectives are all into Anthony who slowly became frustrated in life even with the simplest things such as losing his watch; which also beautifully symbolizes the loss of time. In the end, you’ll just realize how humane this film is (the highlight of the ending should be given to Anthony Hopkins however, who made my tears flow silently). Whether it’s about life, relationship (between a child and parents), or reality, Zeller wraps all this up with a natural touch of emotion. A must-watch film that needs to be entered coldly.