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THE FATHER Is a Powerful, Disconcerting, Frightening Tale of Dementia

Sony Picture Classics/YouTube

THE FATHER Is a Powerful, Disconcerting, Frightening Tale of Dementia

By Movieguide® Staff

Editor’s note: THE FATHER was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. What follows is a portion of our review. For the full review, click here.

THE FATHER is a very frightening story of a man progressing into the extreme stages of dementia while being taken care of by his daughter. The movie is purposefully convoluted and very well acted, with subtle dialogue that lingers in the viewer’s imagination.

THE FATHER opens with Anthony Hopkins in the London flat he has owned and lived in for many, many years. His daughter, Anne, is taking care of him. She’s upset that he’s driven off another caregiver, named Angela, and tells her father she has fallen in love with a man in Paris and is moving to Paris. Coming out of his kitchen, the father sees a man he doesn’t recognize. The man tells him that he is Paul, Anne’s husband, and she’s not moving to Paris. At this point, another person claiming to be Anne enters the apartment, but it’s clear this isn’t the same apartment, although it’s very similar.

Next, we’re back to the real Anne and the real Paul, who tell Anthony she’s not going to Paris. However, the real Paul is tired of having Anthony live in their apartment. He wants to put Anthony in a care facility.

Anne brings another caregiver, Laura, to interview with Anthony. Laura is very pretty and reminds Anthony of his other daughter, who is later revealed to have died in an accident. Anthony starts flirting with Laura, offering her a glass of whiskey, pretending to have been a professional tap dancer and then traps her in a question that’s absolutely devastating to her.

Anthony has a lot of anger and sarcasm issues. He thinks people are robbing him and lying to him. Every time he thinks his watch has been stolen, Anne finds it in one of his secret hiding places.

Slowly, the drama of Anthony’s dementia increases, although the movie does not declare it. The years and events are conflated. His memories intrude on reality.

Finally, he is in a gigantic care facility, where the nurse and the orderly are the two people he imagines to be Anne and Paul, and Anne has moved to Paris. Anthony asks plaintively, “What is going to become of me? Where is my watch so I can go on my journey?” The questions create heartbreaking moments.

Anthony Hopkins does such a great job of acting that the audience believes he has dementia, and he gets the audience to believe they might have dementia. The constant transitions between reality and false memories and delusions take their toll on Anthony and on the audience.

All of the other acting is also hyper real and incredibly upsetting. Anne loves her father passionately, although he’s constantly putting her down, telling other people in front of her that she is stupid, praising her sister, although he doesn’t remember her sister died, and otherwise mentally abusing her. How she can put up with him is amazing. Sadly, it seems to have destroyed her marriage.

There have been a lot of movies about aging, and the delusions that might ensue, including the great movie COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA, starring Burt Lancaster and Shirley Booth. THE FATHER may be the most powerful, the most disconcerting and the most frightening. However, it could have used more orchestration, which would have given the movie some pacing to relieve the horror of dementia. MOVIEGUIDE® advises caution for older children and other viewers. Watch THE FATHER at your own risk.