Extremely spoilery. My review is here.
The Father is about the fear and dislocation of ageing and dementia, and what identity means when memory has gone. I’m not sure it’s meant to be explained; rather that the sense of being adrift in a newly changing world be felt just as acutely by us the audience as by Anthony himself.
Chronology, time flowing at a regular rate, and accuracy of recollection are all up in the air. Incidents loop on repeat yet often never have resolution.
This is a confusing film, though as for Anthony, when the only measure of happy ending can be acceptance, go with what makes you feel best!
At the end of the film, we see Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) in a care home bedroom with Anne (Olivia Colman). Tellingly, she is explaining to him that together they need to make the decision for him to stay there. The last of his autonomy is almost gone, along with his ordered memories.
She is moving to Paris and will come back every few weeks to see him. (She leaves through a courtyard, walking past a huge sculpture of a face with the top part of the head missing.)
Then it moves to a few weeks further on, still in his bedroom in the care home. Anne has gone and comes back only occasionally to visit.
“What about me? Who exactly am I?” Anthony asks his nurse, Catherine (Olivia Williams). She comforts him as he breaks down, calling him “baby” (Anthony’s reactions to infantilising speech have varied throughout the film).
Anthony is asking for his mummy like a small boy. The leaves are falling off the trees, he says, meaning his memories are disconnecting from his life. Catherine holds him and reminds him they can go for a walk in the park. We can see the trees through his bedroom window, framed by leaf-print curtains, leaves upon leaves, memory upon memory.
Admittedly in this film chronology cannot be relied upon, but my assumption is that Anthony has been in the care home for much of the time, though his memories are impinging on real life, and vice versa. It’s like two photos being superimposed on each other, though we often don’t know if we are in Anthony’s confused present or (mis)remembered past.
In his current life, Anthony no longer has any context provided by his own short term memory so he’s been subconsciously filling in the gaps himself.
The layout of rooms in the care home is identical to that of the mansion flats, where he may or may not have lived on his own and with Anne. Both his carers (Catherine, and Bill, played by Mark Gatiss) appear earlier in the film. So Olivia Williams plays another version of Anne, and Mark Gatiss plays another version of Anne’s (presumably ex-)husband Paul.
Oh yes and the names: The father in Le Père, the play on which this is based, was called Andre not Anthony, so there’s no nominative determinism at work in the casting here. Presumably the name was changed to add to one of the dilemmas which the film grapples with: namely, what is personhood when unwillingly detached from a past?
So Anthony plays Anthony, and – coincidentally, I presume – two actresses called Olivia play his daughter Anne.
The Father is out in the US now and is released in the UK on 12 March.