Anthony’s watch is missing. It’s possible he misplaced it, but probably someone stole it. Probably the woman his daughter hired to take care of him, not that he needs anyone to take care of him.
Such a small thing looms large in director Florian Zeller’s extraordinary film The Father, based on his own play and starring Anthony Hopkins as a man falling deep into dementia while his daughter, played by Olivia Colman, tries to find the best way to help him. You feel now like you’ve seen this before, but while most movies understandably tell this story from the perspective of the caregiver, Zeller’s film forces us to see this through Anthony’s experience— it’s brilliantly disorienting, making us internalize Anthony’s struggles and understand why he does what he does. Usually we’re presented with behavior, with external movements and reactions, but The Father shoves us inside, and we see that what might seem erratic actually has some rationality behind it, or at least as much as there can be coming from such an irrational place. It’s a masterful way to create empathy and it causes us to question nearly everything we see, unsure of what in Anthony’s experience is “really” happening and what isn’t.
Anthony Hopkins has been so great for so long that this seems like extreme hyperbole to say, and so I don’t say it lightly, but I think there’s a very good chance this is the best work he’s ever done. Hopkins uses his age so well, knowing exactly how we often equate that with infirmity, but breaking through with charm and wit. And he takes sharp turns simply with his eyes, cycling through bewilderment, unease, and sharp focus, sometimes in seconds. And so by the end, when he finally verbalizes what he’s feeling, it’s as quietly heartbreaking as anything I’ve seen in years.
“I feel as if I’m losing all my leaves.”
“Your leaves? What do you mean?”
“The branches, and the wind, and the rain.”