The Father

by Michael Young | June 23, 2021
7 min read
The Father Movie Poster
Source: Sony Pictures Classics

Editor’s Note: A review of the harrowing personal drama about a man’s descent into dementia that won Anthony Hopkins this year’s Oscar for Best Actor. “The Father” also received Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress, Best Film Editing and Best Production Design and won a second Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Available on Netflix DVD and to rent on Amazon Prime Video for $5.99.

A place is a home” because it provides a comforting sense of stability—an environment where things don’t change too much and patterns of life are predictable. We walk into the living room knowing that the furniture is the same and in the same place as it was yesterday. If we decide to plop down on the sofa, we don’t have to worry about whether it’s going to be there. We might not pay them much attention, but the walls are the same color as always; the paintings on the walls are where we placed them years ago.

But what happens when things aren’t the same? What happens when the connective tissue—our memories—that bind us to reality start to fray and our memories of that living room are no longer true? What happens when the living room is no longer the color you remember, and the furniture has moved to a different spot, or has disappeared altogether, or maybe you discover that your favorite chair is occupied by a stranger. What happens when each moment in your life seems brand new and often unsettling, and there is nothing in the present to connect you to your memories of yesterday?

Dementia, Alzheimer’s, old age! We label decrepitude with different terms and appreciate that it strikes some of us earlier or harder than others, but physical and mental decline seems to be something we will all end up having to confront, either in our own lives or in those we love.

“The Father” tells the harrowing personal story of one man’s descent into disorientation, then anger and fear and, finally, invisibility. Maybe because, at 70, I’m starting to approach these possibilities, I found “The Father” to be remarkably effective at bringing the viewer into 80-year-old Anthony’s disintegrating world. A few weeks ago, the viewing public ranked “The Father” in sixth or seventh place in popularity, but, unlike most movies, appreciation for it has grown. It is now No. 1 in IMDB (Internet Movie Database) audience ratings—out of the 41 movies that received Oscar nods this year.

This movie is excellent in nearly every respect. I can tell you about many of its technical strengths because knowing about them in advance will only enhance your viewing pleasure. The filmmakers’ artistry will pull you into the world of dementia even more than you think is possible.

The film is set in London and most of the film takes place on one set: Anthony’s apartment, which the British call a “flat.” Hmmmm, or is it his flat? And is he always in his flat? It certainly is well appointed, with handsome antiques and knickknacks scattered about and valuable paintings dotting the walls. The production design people have outdone themselves in outfitting the apartment with all the accoutrements that someone with money and taste collects over a lifetime.

Anthony Hopkins in "The Father"
Anthony Hopkins well deserved this year’s Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of one man’s descent into disorientation, then anger and fear and, finally, invisibility. Source: Sony Pictures Classics

But pay attention. The production designers (Oscar-nominated Peter Francis and Cathy Featherstone) constantly but subtly alter the décor. Lush wall hues become more subdued; the flat’s front door changes in color and style, reverts to its “normal” appearance and changes again. After a while, you begin to notice even small variances, such as when a side chair in the entry hall, grown familiar from the characters’ comings and goings, disappears from its customary location. One begins to wonder if there a conspiracy to upset Anthony and drive him mad. Or is the conspiracy—which also entails recurring incidents involving a watch and a rotisserie chicken (!)—targeting us, the viewers?

The production designers aren’t the only ones in on the conspiracy contributing to our bewilderment (and Anthony’s). French composer Ludovico Einaudi has produced musical arrangements that frequently employ the same basic themes. But, as the movie progresses, the accompanying score becomes less dense—it loses more of its texture.

Cinematographer Ben Smithard films with decreasing levels of color saturation and lighting. He also deploys, at times, the symmetric framing that is remarkably effective in showing Anthony’s isolation. But then he shifts perspectives, increasing our disorientation. All of this is woven by film editor Yorgos Lamprinos into a collage of parallel but contrasting scenes and actions that leave us wondering exactly what time and place Anthony finds himself in now. Lamprinos was nominated for an Oscar for what Christy Lemire ( says was the “daunting task of crafting a story that’s simultaneously confusing and compelling.”

The bulk of the credit should go to the head conspirator, writer and first-time director Florian Zeller. Zeller is a French playwright, and this movie is based on his stage play, “La Père,” first performed in 2012. That Zeller, though only 42 years old, is able to write with such clarity and empathy about a geriatrical condition helps to explain why he and his partner, the esteemed British screenwriter Christopher Hampton, won this year’s Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. (Hampton previously won an Oscar in that category for “Dangerous Liaisons” and was nominated again in that category for “Atonement.”) “The Father” packs so much wallop in it less than 100 minutes of running time that my only complaint was that it was too short—I wanted more!

It takes more than a good script to make a good movie—actors need to bring the dialogue to life. The small cast of “The Father”—there were maybe a half-dozen speaking parts—was exceptional. Olivia Colman, who mostly (and what does that mean?) played Anne, won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as the crazy queen in 2018’s “The Favourite.” Here, her Oscar-nominated performance blends a wonderful mix of exasperation, sympathy and love for her declining father.

Zeller and Hampton wrote the screenplay specifically with one person in mind to play the leading role, and they even named the lead character after their actor of choice. When Welsh actor, director and film producer Sir Philip Anthony Hopkins agreed to take the role, Zeller’s dream came true. And, rightfully, this became Hopkins’s movie.

“Hopkins gives one of the most vulnerable and emotional performances of his career,” assessed Brian Tallerico of An “astonishing, devilish performance” raved Jeannette Catsoulis of the New York Times.

Hopkins, of course, won this year’s Oscar for Best Actor. The award is more than deserved. It is also a fitting bookend to the 83-year-old actor’s career, which skyrocketed in America with his Oscar-winning performance as Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs” 30 years ago.

MaryAnn Johanson ( summarized the unique contribution made by “The Father” to movie history in observing that “the empathy machine of cinema has rarely been put to such uncomfortably intimate use.” Even Hopkins has admitted to being overwhelmed while filming scenes that forced him to contemplate his own mortality. And, I suspect, “The Father” will have the same effect on anyone who views it. Wait for lines like “I feel as if I’m losing all my leaves” or, towards the end, when Anthony cries: “I want my mommy!” I dare you not to tear up.

This is one of, if not the best picture of 2020! Don’t miss it!  5 stars


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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

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