An elderly parent who refuses to accept they can no longer care for themselves has become a common trope in familial dramas.  It’s a scenario that’s been explored many times but never like this.  Instead of focusing on the family, “The Father” takes us directly into the mind of a man trying to make sense of his unraveling world.

Florian Zeller makes his feature directorial debut with a movie based on his own play, 2012’s “Le Père.”  It tells the story of a proud man, Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), who believes he is perfectly capable of staying in his own flat, without the assistance of anyone.   His daughter, Anne (Olivia Colman) has been stopping by daily for years but will be relocating to Paris soon.  As time passes Anthony’s situation changes.  He has a caregiver who visits, he takes a room at Anne’s home while she was married, and then later moves into her smaller apartment after the divorce.   Or was that before she got married?  Wasn’t she supposed to go to France, or was that Rome?  The narrative begins to wrap itself into a Mobius strip as Anthony’s mind falters.

Using clever editing and brilliant production design, we’re taken along Anthony’s journey into confusion.  It starts slow, with a missing watch and blue grocery bags that seemed to materialize on the counter.  A doorway that was established to lead to a hallway suddenly leads somewhere else.  Conversations that were described in the past tense occur in the present a few scenes later.  Clothing changes, as does the color of the walls.  Like Anthony, we too have trouble determining what is real and when it occurred.  Production design does throw us a few clues with the use of blue (Anthony’s favorite color) and stark white.

The film achieves its goal of warping the past, present, and future in a remarkable way but without a meaningful script and powerful performances, it would be little more than a gimmick.  Thankfully, “The Father” excels on all fronts.  Hopkins’ performance here ranks among his very best, employing more range than perhaps any other role he’s done.  Even when there’s no dialog, he brings a physicality to the screen that speaks volumes.  Colman shines just as much, wrenching our hearts with her eyes.  The script also does an impressive job of making these characters seem so very real, even as one of them is questioning the very nature of his reality.

“The Father” is a fascinating flick that flips an old trope on its head, turning a familial drama into what feels like a psychological thriller.

“The Father” opens in theaters today and is available on PVOD 3/26

The Father