The Father review: Anthony Hopkins immerses you in the mind of a person with Alzheimer's

Rating: PG13

Length: 97 minutes

Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell, Mark Gatiss

Director: Florian Zeller

Release: In theatres 15 April (Singapore)

5 out of 5 stars

The Father, about an 81-year-old man Anthony suffering from Alzheimer's disease, is an ingenious film that puts viewers in the shoes of someone living with this condition.

It features two masterful actors, Anthony Hopkins as the protagonist and Olivia Colman as his daughter Anne, although Hopkins is undeniably the main star here. (Yes, the protagonist Anthony was named after the actor.)

The Father was adapted from a French play by Florian Zeller, who serves here as the writer and director of this film, too. The film has been nominated for six Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor for Anthony Hopkins, Best Supporting Actress for Olivia Colman, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, and Best Production Design.

The Father follows another recent film about dementia, Supernova (read our review here), although the two deal with different themes.

Anthony Hopkins (right) and Olivia Colman in The Father.
Anthony Hopkins (right) and Olivia Colman in The Father.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, a neurodegenerative condition that afflicts many elderly people, although it can affect younger people too. According to the Alzheimer's Association, symptoms of the disease include memory loss; disorientation, mood and behaviour changes; deepening confusion about events, time and place; unfounded suspicions about family, friends and caregivers; and, in its advanced stages, difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.

The disjointed narrative of The Father shows what happens in the mind of a person who is affected by many of the above symptoms as their brain deteriorates.

The film begins with Anne telling Anthony that she is moving from London to Paris, and therefore needs to hire a caregiver to take care of him while she is away. Anthony insists that he can manage perfectly fine on his own, which we realise later is not true.

The first sign of trouble occurs when Anthony comes upon a man in his living room who he doesn't recognise. The man tells him that he is Paul, Anne's husband. Anne returns from an errand, and Anthony eagerly greets her, thinking that she can clear the confusion - except that the woman who walks in the door is also someone he doesn't recognise. But she tells him that she is his daughter Anne.

Anthony Hopkins (left) and Olivia Colman in The Father.
Anthony Hopkins (left) and Olivia Colman in The Father.

Anthony experiences a series of such confusing and illogical encounters as the film progresses. Faces, people and timelines blend into each other in his perception. It feels like a horror fantasy, a terrible conspiracy against Anthony – but it is simply what his damaged brain is causing him to see, hear, and believe.

Which version of events is supposed to be true? Do any of the scenes shown exist in reality at all, or does it all exist in Anthony's mind? Ultimately, it doesn't matter, because the point the film makes is that, for Anthony, this is his reality, however little sense it makes. We are put completely behind his viewpoint – the viewpoint of a person experiencing the effects of dementia.

Hopkin's performance is a tour de force, running the gamut of anger, confusion, and childlike vulnerability.

In films and TV shows, we often see what happens outwardly to those afflicted with dementia, as well as the people around them. The Father immerses you totally in the lived reality of a person suffering from Alzheimer's disease. It's a plea, too, to empathise with dementia sufferers and understand what they go through.

More movie reviews: