Watching The Father feels like watching a particularly good episode of Black Mirror, without any of the tech paranoia. It’s an ingeniously-directed film by Florian Zellner, about an elderly man’s descent into dementia, and the emotional fallout that his condition causes in his family.
We watch as Anthony (played in an Oscar-winning performance by Anthony Hopkins) goes about his day at his spectacular London apartment, displaying clear signs of mental illness. Having misplaced his watch, he launches into a tirade about a thieving caregiver. His daughter Anne, played by Olivia Colman, appears to be exhausted by all this, and makes feeble attempts to pacify him. It’s as if they’ve had these conversations several times before.
This is Zellner’s first feature film, and what he is able to achieve emotionally evokes the sort of skill that three-decade veterans in the game often struggle to display. Armed with Hopkins’ astonishing performance, Zellner creates a sense of claustrophobia and disorientation simply through staging, and a creative spin so brilliantly Hitchcockian that I’m wondering why it isn’t used more often.
The first time that the movie swapped actors, confounding both Anthony and the audience, I was stunned. He’s shocked into silence as he watches a woman who says she’s his daughter, but is utterly unrecognisable to him. Not only does this immediately convey the degree of Anthony’s illness, but it forges an imperceptible bond between him and the viewer. Now that you know (almost) exactly what he is feeling, how can you not care for him?