A harrowing portrait of one man’s struggle with dementia, The Father is that rare cinematic creature: a singular story that tells a thousand tales. It is about presence as much as absence, pride as much as humility, and perception as much as reality. As edited by Yorgos Lamprinos, this mind-bending Möbius strip is above all about time — and the lack of it.
Time references abound in The Father — in the watch that octogenarian Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) frequently misplaces; in his constant temporal confusion and related agitation; and in his daughter’s tacit realization that Anthony’s time is running out. Using a nonlinear structure that repeatedly challenges our traditional understanding of narrative, Lamprinos cuts between and within scenes to deliberately disorienting effect. Just as Anthony begins to doubt his powers of perception, we as viewers might start to question our own. The cumulative effect is one of temporal fluidity: The events of tomorrow seem to have happened yesterday, while those from last week might as well be occurring now.
What makes Anthony’s mental unraveling all the more palpable is the film’s refusal to identify for our benefit certain objective markers such as locations or characters. It’s as if we, too, are trapped inside the kaleidoscopic prism of Anthony’s mind — that is, until we can once again align our perceptions with those of his desperately well-meaning daughter. By inviting us to see from multiple perspectives, The Father may well be the most fully realized work yet made about what it is to face encroaching dementia, and what it is to love someone being inexorably consumed by it.— Lael Loewenstein