Inside Dementia

Florian Zeller’s directorial debut film The Father is an adaptation from his 2012 stage play, telling the story of an elderly father with Alzheimer’s disease dealing with his problems in daily life inside confusion and disorder. It empathises with audience through the viewpoint of the ailing father.

By Xiaoman Cui

Picture: Via Pixabay, CC0

Florian Zeller’s directorial debut The Father is a drama film based on the director’s 2012 stage play, which is about an aging man who has to deal with hallucinations caused by dementia. The film stars Anthony Hopkins as the father, the protagonist. Anthony Hopkins contributes a brilliant performance, making the film impressive. It generally received positive reviews. At the 93rd Academy Awards, the film gained six nominations in total, finally winning Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The Father’s Perspective

The Father

UK 2020
98 minutes
Director: Florian Zeller
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, and others

The film starts and develops from the perspective of an unreliable narrator, the father with Alzheimer’s disease, whose world is confusing and chaotic. The audience is unexceptionally thrown into fake scenes, which seem normal and objective at the start of the movie. However, more and more conflicts and confusions emerge, implying that the movie is depicted through the viewpoint of the father, and not everything is true. By experiencing the story and the life of the father in this way, the audience gets the chance to clearly feel how the world exactly looks like as an Alzheimer’s patient.

Originally an adept theatre director, Zeller employs the techniques of stage play in this film. He makes it confusingly intricate but trackable by using the setting of the father’s flat as a point of focalization. There are three rooms in the flat which are paid special attention and given notable shots. They are the living room, the kitchen, and the bedroom. The director plays a trick here to slightly change the arrangements, colour, and detailed layout of stuff in these three principal places. By demonstrating changes of these places, the audience is provided clues that the scenes of the story have changed. The father first lives in his own flat, then at his daughter’s place and finally, a nursing home. However, from the viewpoint of the ill father, it seems he always stays in the same place. The language of the lens is applied to tell the audience when his living place changes.

Loneliness and Helplessness

Although the film describes mainly an ill person’s problem, the loneliness, helplessness, and the fear of being abandoned, which are palpable in the movie, are universal human experiences. Anthony Hopkins contributes his excellent performance, encouraging the audience to empathise with him not only as an elderly man, but as a human. In the scene at the beginning, the daughter tells her father resignedly that she will have to leave London for Paris. The father shows his first emotional blow by saying »If I understand correctly, you are leaving me. You are abandoning me«. Only through these short words, the expression, and the tone of speech, the audience develops empathy for Alzheimer’s patients.

One of the most notable techniques the director applies is revealing the father’s confusion through swapping the performers of the people living around him. For example, the actress who originally acts as the nurse also acts as the daughter, the doctor in the nursing house becomes the daughter’s husband. Another striking effect is that the faces of the other characters change every now and then. Consequently, the father’s confusion and chaos are manifested, and so is his helplessness, since he is losing the ability to remember people, even his own daughter. To live in such a world is doubtlessly dreadful. In the last scene, the father cries, resembling a baby yelling for its mother, suggesting that people will symbolically return to the start point of the life cycle, being weak and frail again when they get old. With the eventual shot of him falling on the tranquil trees outside the window of the nursing house, the audience is left in the long-lasting reflection of observing the journey of life.

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