When I saw a movie with Anthony Hopkins called The fatherI hoped that perhaps it was a film version of the heartbreaking, grieving play of the same name by Swedish playwright August Strindberg (1849-1912). It would have been something sensational: few works generate in me the feeling of claustrophobia, helplessness and despair that this masterpiece by the author of Miss Julia (With which, dear readers, I am making a signal for you to read it, or even see a theatrical montage of it on YouTube). But it wasn’t Strindberg. It was actually a Franco-British co-production, brought to the screen by novice director Florian Zeller, based on a work of his own authorship published in 2012. This piece had already inspired a film in 2015: Florida. The film slipped into the list of eight nominees for the Academy statuettes, but could not against Nomadland, one of the best opus out of Hollywood in decades.
Is The father A great film? No. It is certainly a good movie, but not a great movie. To be exact, it is a film that in the hands of any actor other than Anthony Hopkins, would have gone unnoticed. But of course, Hopkins imbues it with his acting genius, his histrionic virtuosity, his vast experience in theater and cinema, and he, alone, transubstance: he makes it an unforgettable experience.
Hopkins, a Welshman, and eighty-three years old, is a rare bird in the Hollywood universe. Is a late bloomer: one of those flowers that blooms late, but with what abundance of color! The silence of the inocents He launched him into the exosphere in 1991 (he was already fifty-four years old!) when for the first time he played a villain who is destined to become a film legend, and who will undoubtedly be taken up by other actors: Hannibal “the cannibal ”Lecter, a chilling combination of erudition, sophistication, elegance, exquisite culture, with atavistic and perverse proclivities to gastronomic and elaborately culinary cannibalism. A character that represents the two poles of the human creature. And indeed, Hopkins won his first Academy Award with this film. But by then he had a very distinguished career as a film and theater actor with very important titles. Hopkins was not born acting in 1991, but in 1968, with The lion in winter, next to Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole. Hopkins is the youngest representative of that line of superb British actors that includes Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Peter O’Toole, Michael Redgrave, Richard Burton, Michael Caine and Robert Shaw. Those were his teachers, colleagues, and inspirers.
Today, at the age of eighty-three, he becomes the oldest actor to have won an Academy Award. With Hopkins, the same is true of Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren or Daniel Day-Lewis: practically any role they play could deserve the highest cinematographic prize. I would have awarded Hopkins too What remains of the day, Shadowlands, Nixon, Friendship and… well, almost everything he has done.
The greatest success of the film The father -Apart from the choice of Hopkins as the lead-is that the director chooses to tell the story from the perspective of the unfortunate old man. We see life through their eyes. We experience with him the terrifying phenomenon of temporal alienation (hence his obsession with clocks), of spatial alienation (his bewilderment when he sees the way in which his apartment is gradually being emptied and “transformed” into an aseptic clinic for elderly people affected by dementia), from interpersonal alienation (he does not recognize his people, speaks with imaginary characters, becomes paranoid and psychotic), and from himself (he no longer knows who or what he is, and what he is doing in that hostile and incomprehensible region called life). This is heartbreaking, and all the more so since we know that psychic collapse annihilates a man of the highest intelligence and refined culture, particularly fond of opera (the aria Casta diva by Norma de Bellini, and the aria I think I still hear from The pearl fishers by Bizet are his favorite music). A subtle and accurate brushstroke from the director: this music, which is originally diegetic (that is, part of the plot in the film), is extrapolated to the non-diegetic level (it sounds even when Hopkins is not hearing it, as an added resource “From the outside” by the director: not part of the story). Thus we see how the inner world of the elderly seems to contaminate the entire film with its melancholy, in its diegetic as well as in its non-diegetic dimension.
Hopkins’s drama – and that of his daughter Anne – is not at all different from the one that hundreds of thousands of families are experiencing today throughout the world. What to do with the elderly who lose the most precious of human faculties: intelligence and the ability to interact with others? Hopkins rejects the nurses who come to treat him in the apartment that he shares – unknowingly – with Anne and her husband Paul. He dreams of meeting his daughter Lucy, forgetting that she died in a car accident. The miserable son-in-law -espernible character- abuses him psychologically and slaps him mercilessly: “Aren’t you ever going to get tired of making life miserable for others?” And the old man limits himself to defending himself as best he can from the ruthless aggressor.
The public’s reaction to this film is divided into two fractions. Those who have had to deal with an elder in the family who demands special care, and for whom the space and time coordinates are totally dislocated, are inclined to agree with their daughter Anne and her husband Paul: it was necessary to intern him in an asylum (while they go happily to live in Paris). But those of us who have not had to live that martyrdom, we identify with Hopkins, and consider that his daughter Anne abandoned him, betrayed him, and left him free to his own demons chosen by husband, makes us doubt the daughter’s ethical discernment).
Hopkins reserves for the end of the film his great “coloratura aria”, his “cadence of virtuosity ”: in a scene that brings tears to her eyes, she experiences a childish regression and calls her“ mommy ”to her aid. Desperately, crying like a child, he calls over and over to his “mommy”: “I want to be with mommy, I want them to give me back to mommy.” It is the return to the seed. The desperate recourse to that figure: the only one who never desertes us, the eternally loyal, the unconditional, the most solid rock, the granite rock in our lives: the mother. As Julia Kristeva says: “Compared to the love that unites a son with his mother, all other human affections explode like mere simulacra.”
Hopkins expresses something that reveals him as the poet who perhaps was: “I am a tree that is losing its leaves, its branches, the wind and the rain.” This observation is of the utmost importance: not only does he miss his disintegrating corporeity, he also misses the erosive agents: wind and rain. This means: “I am beyond pain: I no longer even feel those things that used to attack me. I am emptiness, pure hollowness, an uninhabited house. I can’t even suffer, because I no longer have the wind or the rain to beat me. I only have the insensitivity of the stones, the eternal silence and immobility ”.
Did they even have the courtesy to bring her favorite music to the nursing home? It is highly doubtful. And my heart goes with him, and severely censures his abandoned daughter and his cowardly son-in-law. But that’s my feeling. Other viewers may experience the movie completely differently. The dramatic power and the human truth of Hopkins’s interpretation (the dull eyes, as if veiled by a thin membrane, the expression of unspeakable sadness, the pained rictus of his lips)… everything moves us to the deepest pity.
The elderly who are uprooted to their habitat, to their privileged environment, to their limited family space, usually do not last long in those institutions called asylums or, peripherally, “rest houses.” Once there, sadness corrodes them in a matter of months. I have been able to verify it in many cases close to me.
The treatment given to the elderly suffering from degenerative dementia is still and always a problem of a human, bioethical and deontological-medical nature. Hopkins was not a violent and unmanageable old man. He might be offensive to his nurses, but he wasn’t eating their livers and making dessert out of his pancreas either. Any qualified nurse knows how to handle these types of situations. The daughter did not hire truly certified professionals to treat her father. I cannot forgive her, I simply cannot forgive her … I am sorry, dear friends, but I cannot hide my feelings on this point, which is the axis itself, the quid, the core, the big decision the movie is about.
Sadly and ironically, after Hopkins describes himself as the tree that has lost everything (even his ability to suffer), the camera pans towards the window, and we see the splendid, green and iridescent treetops. that the breeze rocks. As Paul Valéry would say: “the gift of life ends up passing from man to flowers”.
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‘The father’: Anthony Hopkins saves, alone, a movie