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The Father

What is it like to experience dementia? The new film The Father provides a glimpse. The picture is not a pretty one. And not just for the individual suffering cognitive decline.

Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) is the father of Anne (Olivia Colman). He has trouble remembering. Little things. And big things. When she tells him she is moving to Paris, leaving him in London, his difficulties become worse.

A cleverly constructed screenplay presents the film’s events with some ambiguity. What is real and what is imagined is conflated just as Anthony’s recollections are mashups of his life’s experiences.

That screenplay is co-written by French playwright Florian Zeller. He also wrote the play. Oh, and he is also making his feature film debut as a director with The Father. Wow!

Sometimes a stage play loses something when it is adapted for the movie screen. But in the case of The Father, the film version allows for facial closeups that display depths of expression one might not perceive from the distance of a stage performance.

Faced with the dilemma many baby boomers have had to address (and now some gen-xers, too), Anne seeks outside help to care for her father. One candidate, Laura (Imogeen Poots), when told about his unpleasant tendencies by Anne, assures her that her father’s behavior is “quite normal” for those in his state. 

Paul (Rufus Sewell), the man in Anne’s life, suggests she put her dad in a home. Is he being selfish or is he offering the objective view that she does not have about Anthony’s condition? 

If you have cared for aging parents you may identify with Anne and her stressful circumstance. And if you are approaching senior status—or just hope to live a long life—The Father might be a preview of what could await you or some of your contemporaries unless you are lucky.

Anthony Hopkins recently turned 83. (His character Anthony in the film gives his birthday as December 31, 1937—same as the real-life Anthony.) His performance in The Father has already netted him award nominations (and losses to Chadwick Boseman). And when the Oscar noms are announced on March 15, expect him to be on the list. 

Olivia Colman has also received multiple nominations this award season. 

Just as 2001’s A Beautiful Mind tries to show what life is like for a person with schizophrenia, so does The Father reveal a subjective view of dementia. Like that film from twenty years ago, this new film is not just entertaining but also instructive. 

The Father is rated PG-13. 

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