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Film / The Father

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"There's something funny going on..."

The Father is a 2020 drama film directed by Florian Zeller and written by him and Christopher Hampton, based on Zeller's 2012 play Le Père. The film stars Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman, with Rufus Sewell, Imogen Poots, Olivia Williams, and Mark Gatiss in supporting roles. It premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival ahead of a general release on February 26, 2021.

Anthony is an 80-year-old Welshman. Active, mischievous, and charming, he insists he is perfectly capable of living alone despite his age. However, his daughter Anne, unable to visit every day, insists on hiring in-home care. As Anthony tries to rebel against this imposition, he notices that the world around him increasingly appears to not be as it seems. Even the flat where he has lived for decades isn't staying the same, and the people and things inside keep changing. It becomes clear that Anthony has a severe case of dementia, one that leaves him unable to distinguish between individuals, or between the present and the past.

The trailer can be seen here. Compare Henry, a 2011 short film with a similar premise.

Tropes associated with The Father include:

  • Adaptation Name Change: In the original play and subsequent English translation, the titular character was named "Andre". In the film it was changed to "Anthony".
  • Ambiguous Situation:
    • It's unclear what exactly is happening to Anthony in some scenes due to his dementia. The film opens with Anne saying she's going to live in Paris, but the Man (or Paul) doesn't seem to understand what Anthony is saying when he repeats this, and Anne tells a psychologist that she's not going anywhere and has no idea what Anthony is talking about; but at the end of the film, Anne tells Anthony she is indeed going to live in Paris and even sends him a postcard .
    • Anthony is struck by the Man during an argument, but when Anne hears him crying and rushes out, the Man has turned back into Paul and doesn't seem to have hit him. It's unclear if any abuse actually happened, if Anthony imagined it, or if it's some form of carer abuse since the Man is (maybe) a worker at the facility Anthony is living in at the end of the film.
  • Anachronic Order: A symptom of Anthony's dementia. A scene where Olivia Colman argues with Rufus Sewell is repeated twice in a row. The new caretaker, Laura, comes for her first day at work...and then later she comes for her first day at work again, played by a different actress. Anne says that she's divorced and she's going to Paris, then later says that she's married and has no thought of going to Paris, then later apparently she actually is living in Paris. (The most logical explanation for the Paris confusion is that Anthony's Anachronic Order memories are mixing up earlier times, when Olivia Colman was married to Rufus Sewell and Paris wasn't thought of, to later memories of when Anne really did go.)
  • Bleak Abyss Retirement Home: Anne has reservations about putting her father into a retirement home but eventually decides it's the best solution.
  • Building of Adventure: Anthony's flat, his daughter Anne's flat, and the residential care home all play out in the same location, albeit with slightly changed decor.
  • Downer Ending: Though it's impossible to tell what actually happens in the film, the most likely scenario is that Anne realizes that her father's condition has advanced so far to where she can no longer care for him at home as she wanted, and she is forced to put him in a hospital. Anthony breaks down in fear of his condition in a nurse's arms, and the point's pretty much made that his mental state can do nothing but continue declining.
  • Elder Abuse: Maybe. In this Mind Screw movie it's hard to tell, but it appears that the man in the house slaps Anthony, causing Anne to run out of the kitchen and find him sobbing. What makes it hard to tell is that it's Mark Gatiss who slaps him but Rufus Sewell who's cringing in embarrassment when Anne runs into the room. (It appears that it was Rufus Sewell who slapped Anthony, because that scene is shot from Anne's point of view.)
  • Fantasy Sequence: The scene in which Anne suffocates Anthony turns out to be pure imagination on her part.
  • The Film of the Play: Le Père was first written in French in 2012, and was translated into English in 2014. Christopher Hampton, who wrote the English-language translation, also co-wrote the screenplay of the film.
  • I Want My Mommy!: Anthony says this word-for-word late in the film, when, now in the institution and deep in the grip of dementia, he breaks down crying and wishes that his mommy would come and take him away.
  • Jerkass:
    • Anthony gets this way sometimes when his mind is failing and he becomes paranoid (such as accusing the loving Anne of wanting to steal his apartment), though it's pretty understandable when everything is changing around him all the time and his memories are highly inconsistent.
    • Paul, though it's also a downplayed, realistic variant. Clearly he's at his wit's end and sees the stress that caring for Anthony has on Anne, but he doesn't seem particularly close to Anthony and suggests he be put in a facility, which Anne is against. Due to the timeline of the film, however, it's unclear if he had been close with Anthony at some point and is just frustrated with the situation. Either way, he's strained and short with Anthony, and his alternate version "the Man" is even worse, even striking him (which may or may not have happened in real life).
  • Jerkass Has a Point: He's a complete prick who may even be outright abusive but Paul is right that Anthony needs to be in a facility and that Anne cannot keep looking after him and to point out the serious strain it's having on her well-being.
  • Left the Background Music On: Twice do we hear classical music playing in the background of a scene and both times it's revealed that it was coming from Anthony's stereo.
  • Mind Screw: The entire movie is this, due to Anthony's deteriorating mental condition. People, scenery, and established facts change by the minute, leaving it ambiguous as to what's actually happened to him. Even at the start of the film, Anne puts dinner in the oven and leaves — only to return looking completely different with the same chicken she's just put in the oven, claiming it's 8pm and time to eat dinner when the sun is high in the sky. Sometimes characters change appearance even in the same scene.
    • The most likely explanation is that Olivia Colman (Anne) was married to Rufus Sewell (Paul), and that Anthony confuses Olivia Williams and Mark Gatiss (Catherine and Bill, nurses at the institution) with his daughter and son-in-law. Imogen Poots, who first appears onscreen as Laura the caretaker, seems to "really" be Anthony's daughter Lucy who died some time ago in an accident. Of course, since the character of Laura appears a second time in the person of Olivia Williams, and then Olivia Williams is later identified as Catherine, the nurse from the institution, it's still unclear how much if at all a character named "Laura" even exists.
  • Minimalist Cast: There are about six actors with a speaking role.
  • Mood Whiplash: All of Anthony's interaction with Laura are this. In his introduction to her, he seems flirtatious and jovial, and makes her laugh by telling her he had been a professional dancer — only to turn on her and Anne moments later, insulting Laura and accusing Anne of trying to take his apartment from him.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Some of the film's promotional material make it look like a straightforward dramedy about a heartwarming relationship between Anthony and Anne. To say they misrepresent what the film actually is would be a very big understatement.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Anthony's daughter Lucy died in an accident some time before the events of the film but his condition means he believes she's still alive.
  • The Reveal: The Woman and the Man are Catherine and Bill, two workers at the hospital Anthony is staying at, and his poor mind is confusing them with Anne and Paul. Probably.
  • Rule of Symbolism:
    • The close-up shot on a dripping tap getting and slower until the dripping stops.
    • Anthony comparing his fading memories to a tree losing its leaves.
  • Scatterbrained Senior: Anthony insists he isn't, but as the film progresses we see increasingly how frayed his connection to reality is.
  • Slain in Their Sleep: In one of the few scenes in the movie that are unambiguously from Anne's point of view, at one point when the stress of taking care of Anthony is getting to her, she imagines smothering him with a pillow.
  • Speech-Centric Work: The movie is half dialog and half Anthony looking around in bewilderment.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: An example that's particularly heartbreaking and played completely seriously, as the film depicts a man suffering from dementia and consciously shows its events from his perspective.
  • The Unfavorite: Anthony's condition causes him to outright admit that Lucy is his favorite daughter, not Anne, and he frequently demands to see Lucy even as the loving Anne puts herself out to take care of him. It's revealed that she died in an accident some time ago, a fact he doesn't remember, though he does dream of her death.
  • Unreliable Narrator: See above. Anthony doesn't understand the extent of his mental decline, and as such his connection to reality is unstable.
  • Wham Line: Anthony's "Who are you?" to the man who's sitting in his room is the first sign that there is something very wrong with him beyond the usual Scatterbrained Senior.