By María Estévez, MWN
French playwright Florian Zeller directs a film about a man suffering from dementia who doesn’t behave as demented movie characters at all. “The Father” makes the audience understand the story from the point of memory confusion when logic fails, time bends and eyes play tricks. In a succession of discontinuous scenes, family members merge and diverge amidst the collapse of reality, leaving not only the grieving main character but also the viewers terrified. The suspense, in the face of this unreliable narrator, comes from Sir Anthony Hopkins, an actor who is moving amidst the shifting sands of someone losing his mind, giving one of the best performances of his career.
“I found the way in which the script creates confusion in the character’s mind and, from his perspective, confuses the viewer, to be very deceptive. I admit I didn’t have to work too hard because I get to react when I go to open the door and I don’t recognize the person in front of me. It doesn’t take much for a scene like that. There is a moment in the film when my character is with his daughter in the doctor’s office when they ask me the day of my birth. I gave them mine, the real one. Because I didn’t need to make it up to understand my role,” Hopkins explained to Metro.
The actor acknowledged that emotions played some tricks on him during the shooting.
“I don’t want to exaggerate, it happened during the shooting of the last scene with Olivia Williams in the character’s room. We shot the first take and Florian, who only needs two takes at most, asked me to repeat the scene. All of a sudden, I stopped and asked him if I could disappear for a few minutes. It’s a normal thing to take about 15 minutes to clear your mind. I walked around a bit and when I came back I felt weird, so I asked for a few more minutes. It was then when I looked around and saw the bedside table near the bed and a pair of glasses on it, a book, a photo of his daughters… And the image took me back to my father. A memory is keeping alive those who are gone, a walking proof that the past exists. We have pictures now, but my mother and father exist in my memories. Time is such a peculiar event that it made the scene work better, because of the effect the moment had on me,” the actor noted.
In fact, everything that Anthony’s character experiences in the film, Hopkins experienced with his father, a strong-willed Welsh baker.
“My father was, in the latter part of his life, quite a belligerent man. And I clearly remember his pain and my mother’s pain in caring for him. They fought because he was rude, but he was that way because he lived in fear. I can tell that the character in the film is my father,” Hopkins admitted during a Zoom conference from London.
Zeller calls his film a “tragic farce.” A play, for which Frank Langella won a Tony in 2016 when it premiered on Broadway, that could now mean the sixth Oscar nomination for Hopkins and his second Oscar 30 years after winning it with “The Silence of the Lambs.”
“I’ve stopped thinking about awards, it was easy for me to shoot this movie because the script was a road map with very simple situations and that’s the beauty of it: keeping the madness simple. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that it’s unnecessary to analyze the work. We actors try to over-examine situations and a lot of young actors like to do that, they feel it’s necessary to be taken seriously, it’s fine for them to do that, but getting older has helped me understand that there’s always a simpler way to do things.”
As a boy growing up in Port Talbot, Wales, before being discovered by Sir Laurence Olivier, knighted by Queen Elizabeth II or landing his first Oscar, Hopkins didn’t consider himself smart.
“With age I have become wise and now I know that I know nothing. All I want is to spend my days in peace because I am aware of my mortality and I want to keep working with energy. In this weird time of COVID, I have learned to make the most of my days: I meditate, I play the piano, I read, I paint and I am at peace. Of all the things I thought I knew, I only know that life is a mystery. Last year I ran into a former teacher from my school, who is 90 years old, and who took it upon herself to remind me that I was not very bright, not very intelligent at the age of 10. True, I don’t remember doing anything excellent in my life.
“I think it was Schopenhauer who said, ‘When we look back, it seems to us as if someone has written a novel of our life and we have no idea how we got there.’ And I believe that. I look back on my life and I don’t believe what I have achieved. If it happened it was because I was in the right place at the right time. To think that I don’t know anything gives me wonderful freedom and when I meditate I think about it. Life is so much more than the human being can comprehend and I’m talking about the divine process of being alive, it’s a wonder to be alive, just to be here at this moment is quite strange. So no, I don’t know anything.”
Olivia Colman is the daughter in charge of taking care of Hopkins’ character in the film, an actress who decided to participate in “The Father” because her mother asked her to:
“With her, I have a foundation dedicated to caring for people with senile dementia, a terrible disease for families, but also for those who suffer from it. Thanks to my mother, who is a geriatric nurse, I understood that patience is the main virtue when caring for these sick people.”