MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Friday, March 12th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.
Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: a new film about a difficult topic that many families are dealing with these days.
It’s in theaters now and available on streaming March 26th. But it’s already generating a lot of Oscar buzz. Here’s Megan Basham.
MEGAN BASHAM, REVIEWER: It’s easy to see the stage origins of Anthony Hopkins’ latest movie, The Father. Writer-director Florian Zeller adapted the film, rated PG-13 for language, from his 2012 French play.
Nearly all the action takes place in a flat that may be Anthony’s (Hopkins’ character shares his first name) or may belong to his eldest daughter, Anne. Late stage dementia makes it difficult for him to remember where he is. But the close set and small cast are the ideal building blocks to illustrate the narrowing that so often comes with the end of life, when the world available to us, both physically and socially, grows so small.
Anne, played by Olivia Colman, tells him she is moving to France to get married. But even if she weren’t, she’s no longer equipped to see to his needs, so they will have to make arrangements about his care. Anthony blithely wonders who would be interested in her romantically and goes back to fixating on his favorite watch. Anne’s lined face and hunched shoulders show months, possibly years, of bearing her father’s verbal blows. Is it illness making him say these things? Or are these the thoughts he’s always had, his tongue loosening as the restraint of a sound mind falls away?
CLIP: I don’t know where this stupid obsession comes from. She’s always been that way, ever since she was little. The thing is she’s not very bright. You know, not very intelligent. She gets it from her mother. I think she tries to do the best that she can for you Anthony. Oh the best she can, the best she can. I never asked her for anything. I don’t know what she’s cooking up against me, but she’s cooking something up, that I do know. I do know the signs. But let me be absolutely clear. I am not leaving my flat. I am not leaving my flat.
Through Anne, we see the conventional story of dementia—the bone-deep weariness and isolation it causes loved ones and caretakers. But The Father quickly moves past that usual construction and pushes us to experience the story from Anthony’s perspective as well.
Throughout the film, we feel unmoored by time, unsure of when conversations are occurring. Or even if they’re occurring at all or are merely a figment of Anthony’s increasing paranoia. This confusion creates sympathy that isn’t drawn from sentimentality or easy melodrama but from allowing us to experience the world as Anthony does. He is obsessive and frequently cruel. Here is talking about his other daughter in front of Anne.
CLIP: Her little sister, now that was quite a different story. Oh you have two daughters? Yes, even though I hardly ever hear from the other one. All the same she’s my favorite was always my favorite. She was a painter, look, there you are. The pirouette. Beautiful isn’t it? Yes. Dazzling girl. I don’t understand why she doesn’t never gets in touch. Never.
But when the scene shifts, we see similar exchanges from Anthony’s point-of-view. When faces are unrecognizable and adults speak to him slowly and simply as if he’s a child, we wonder how much of his behavior may be a mechanism for exerting control over his fracturing sense of himself.
Anne tries to arrange for a series of home nurses so her father won’t be left on his own during the day. But one by one, Anthony chases them off. It is so easy for a stranger, only there to collect a wage, to walk away.
CLIP: We had planned on going to Italy. But we had to cancel at the last moment. Do you know why? No, why? Because of your row with Angela. We weren’t able to go and leave you on your own. We had to cancel our holiday and bring you here. And now you’re going to stay here. For good, if I understand correctly. He’s forgotten. It’s amazing.
In an increasingly aging culture, beset by divorce, smaller families, and fewer siblings to shoulder the burden of sick parents, the question of how we honor our fathers and mothers at the end of their lives becomes a crucial part of living out our theology. Good fathers and bad, cruel and kind, will need to lean on children that themselves have fewer networks to rely on for support.
CLIP: Why do you say things like that in front of him? What did I say? Listen, I completely understand your feelings. No you don’t. Yes I do. But what I don’t understand, is you do so much for him and I respect you for that. I mean you took on the decision to bring him here and, you know, why not. But, how can I put this? I honestly think you have to come up with a different solution. He’s totally lost it, Anne. Stop talking like that. How do you want me to talk? I’m telling the truth. We have to come up with a different arrangement. Such as? Put him in an institution. A home? Yes, a nursing home. It’ll be better for him.
As their absence in The Father illustrates, the ties of extended family, church, and close community may ask much of us in the years of our strength. But they pay back what they take exponentially when we need them.
I’m Megan Basham.