This deeply affecting film features powerful performances and nimble, skillful direction that create an empathetic portrait of memory loss.
Roger Ebert once said, “movies are like machines that generate empathy.” That could not be more true of this film. It puts us in the shoes of an aging man, played by Anthony Hopkins, suffering from a memory loss disease. It’s never outright given a name like Alzheimer’s but the parallels are clear. The film shows us exactly what it feels like to live with something like this and helps us feel for the man and his daughter who does her best to care for him and understand him.
The film opens with a scene between the man (Anthony) and his daughter Anne, played wonderfully by Olivia Colman. Anthony doesn’t want to leave his apartment. Anne informs him that she’s met a man and is moving to Paris. The next day it seems Anthony finds a strange man in his apartment who informs him that he is Anne’s husband and that this is his flat. Anne walks in and she is played by Olivia Williams. We feel just as bewildered as Anthony does. What is real? Who do we trust? What is going on?
I found myself so immersed in Anthony’s experience. I really empathized and felt every frustration and confusion that he did throughout his journey. Hopkins never overplays his hand. He gets to go through some emotional highs and lows, but it feels like a performance. It feels like a genuine reaction to the world around him. I found myself believing that Anthony Hopkins had Alzheimer’s and was just existing on screen. It really was stunning.
He’s not alone though. The incredible Olivia Colman plays his daughter as a woman struggling with her resentment for her father and he love for him. Her inner tug of war is beautifully communicated here as she explains and reed plains herself, as she helps him with his clothes and food, and as she listens to him ramble about his favorite daughter who never comes to visit him anymore. She is stunning here providing a much needed anchor. She keeps the audience grounded in the real.
The directing in the movie really struck me. It’s subtle and full of nuance. I wasn’t bowled over by flashy shots and artsy angles. It sort of crept over me slowly as I realized the little changes in angle, the subtle shifts in perspective, and the use of steady long takes broken by sudden edits. I loved the use of production design the show how the world could slip out of Anthony’s grasp. His apartment and his daughters apartment are so much the same, yet the little differences make them completely new locations. The film is written and directed by Florian Zeller adapted from his own play.
The subject matter might turn people off. I don’t want anyone to think that this is a depressing slog through mental illness. Neither is it a gimmicky film using memory loss as a storytelling device for fun antics. It is an emotional journey that gives us a new perspective and shows us the small moments of hope and joy to be found in life.
When Anne helps Anthony with his sweater and he thanks her for everything is a tiny moment that explodes on the screen here. Anthony feeling overwhelmingly lost and receiving a comforting embrace is such a powerful moment of hope and light in what could be a dark tunnel really elevates the movie.
I was carried by this film and its story telling. I would watch this again anytime to study the nuances of the acting and directing or to simply experience the emotional impact the film has.
The film was just nominated for a slew of Oscars. It’s well worth checking out. I definitely recommend it. It’s my cup of tea for sure. A