‘The Father’ is More Than an Oscar-Grab

Sarah Callen
Apr 22 · 5 min read

It’s a beautiful, thoughtful, and disorienting tale.

The Father movie poster | Sony Pictures Classics
The Father movie poster | Sony Pictures Classics

The Father takes us inside the life and mind of a man who is aging. It’s an ambitious project that tackles the subject of dementia in a way that I have never seen before. We don’t just see how this disease affects the people around Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), but we see the world through his lens.

Given the subject matter, I expected this film to be incredibly morbid and depressing, but it isn’t. Though it’s handling an incredibly difficult subject, it does so with care and intention. While we are experiencing the increasingly unreliable state of the main character’s mind, there are shifts in tone throughout, so it doesn’t feel boring or too weighty.

Though The Father is emotionally heavy, it isn’t as draining as I thought it would be.

It’s so interesting to watch a film about aging because our society and so much of the media are focused on not aging. We are obsessed with avoiding our own mortality. The Father is entirely focused on the period of time leading up to a man’s death. It’s such a sobering film that looks at the nature of life and what we assign meaning to.

As Anthony grows increasingly out of touch with reality throughout the film, we learn about the things that are important to him: his watch, his daughter, Lucy, and her painting that he had hung above the fireplace. Even when we aren’t sure what is real, Anthony keeps circling back to those things.

What an interesting way to encourage the audience to examine what we value and why.

If you haven’t yet watched The Father, it’s definitely worth your time. I’ve read some reviews written by people whose parents or in-laws have dementia who were impressed by how well this film handles this topic. This film handles a difficult subject with intention and care.

Anthony Hopkins in The Father | Sony Pictures Classics
Anthony Hopkins in The Father | Sony Pictures Classics
Anthony Hopkins in The Father | Sony Pictures Classics

One of the most intriguing things about this film is the constantly changing set. Any time we would go into a new room, something would be different. Though everything appears to be happening in the same flat, paint colors will change, the decor will be altered, and the entire structure will look different. Whether we’re in the doctor’s office, the nursing home, or Anne’s apartment, they all, at their core, are Anthony’s apartment.

It’s such a subtle way for us to gain insight into Anthony’s mind. Though he’s in completely different spaces, he keeps trying to find the one place that he feels at home. His mind literally is altering his reality, leading him to grow increasingly confused.

Sir Anthony Hopkins is brilliant in the role of Anthony. Every word is delivered at the right time with just the right emotion behind it. And we see just about every emotion possible in this one film. He amazingly goes from jovial and fun to cruel at the drop of a hat.

One of the most impressive things about his performance is when he doesn’t speak. Often, he enters a room and is unsure of his surroundings. In these pauses, as he collects information, we are able to learn so much about him and the state of his mind. His silence is perfectly timed and full of meaning.

His performance is matched by Olivia Colman’s performance as his dutiful daughter, Anne. She is also phenomenal in this, particularly in her ability to express so many emotions at once. Even in joyful moments, she shows guilt mixed with joy while also bracing for impact. We see her weather blow after blow from her father and her husband, Paul (Rufus Sewell), as she has to navigate this impossible situation.

The other actress who I was particularly impressed with is Olivia Williams as “The Woman.” The last scene, when Anthony is in the nursing home, features an incredible display of her acting chops.

When she first enters the room, she’s on autopilot, just doing her job and trying to get this patient to take his meds. It’s probably her defense mechanism so that she can continue to do this difficult job. The minute Anthony begins to break down, her entire demeanor changes. She flips her empathy switch and comforts this grown man who thinks he’s a young child. It’s such a stunning and powerful moment in the film.

Olivia Colman in The Father | Sony Pictures Classics
Olivia Colman in The Father | Sony Pictures Classics
Olivia Colman in The Father | Sony Pictures Classics

While watching, I developed a weird theory that I want to see if anyone else thought of. I kept thinking that Olivia Colman’s character wasn’t Anne but Lucy.

Throughout, we see Anthony constantly talking badly about Anne and always praising Lucy — he misses Lucy and wants to see her. But what if he were talking to her the entire time and just didn’t know it? It might explain some of the pain that we constantly see on her face.

Many times, when Anthony refers to Olivia Colman’s character as “Anne,” another character looks at her with a somewhat confused look. Other characters almost always refer to her as “your daughter.”

She also calls him “Little Daddy” in a particularly tender moment, which Lucy used to call him. I’m not sure if that’s a correct interpretation of the film, but it’s something that I was thinking about the entire time.

Whether she’s Anne or Lucy, the story is still incredibly powerful, and the characters are full of depth.

The Father is one of those films that I think needs to be watched a few times. It’s so disorienting that it’s a little hard to maintain your footing throughout the film. Because there are so many odd and mysterious things happening, I’m sure I missed a lot during my first watch.

This is one that I’m looking forward to watching again.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium