The Father (2020)

While The Father takes an innovative approach to expressing the personal horrors of dementia as seen through the mind and eyes of the afflicted, this cinematic exercise is ultimately a plotless sequence of events that works best in its previous stage adaptation or in the original novel; moreover, it’s ostensibly an acting vehicle for the leads. That said, this is a film that should be required screening in a gerontology class. Not since One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Terms of Endearment has there been such a powerful film in the exploration of the affects dementia has on the mind of the afflicted themselves and their family. Interestingly both of the films mentioned won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Lead Actress (with OFOtCN additionally winning Best Lead Actor, giving it the Top 5). What separates the referenced award-winning films from The Father is the screenplay, specifically the plot. Yes, The Father illustrates an emotional, powerful story, but there is more to a motion picture than just the emotional component. Think about the differences between a poem and a narrative. The former is emotionally-driven while the latter is plot-driven. For those whom may be unfamiliar with screenwriting, story and plot are not the same things. Story is a series of events recorded in their chronological order; whereas, plot is the deliberate arrangement of those events as to reveal dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance. I liken The Father to a poem more than a typical narrative work. What I appreciate about The Father is its approach to depicting dementia. Never before has a writer-director told a story through the eyes and mind of the individual afflicted with dementia. And it’s that perspective that sets this film apart from others that feature characters experiencing cognitive breakdowns.

A man (Anthony Hopkins) refuses all assistance from his daughter (Olivia Coleman) as he ages. As he tries to make sense of his changing circumstances, he begins to doubt his loved ones, his own mind, and even the fabric of his reality.

Before I elaborate on why this film fell short of following the basic rules of plotting, I must highlight the incredible performance by Sir Anthony Hopkins as our lead Anthony. It’s no surprise that he delivers a command performance. Whether it was for a future critically acclaimed film such as The Silence of the Lambs or a melodrama like Hearts in Atlantis, Hopkins puts every once of his being into every scene. He is truly an actor whom loves the art of performance, and recognizes the importance of delivering the same quality performance in every role, no matter of big or small. In The Father, Hopkins gifts audiences with a tour de force performance as an aging man that is slowly losing his grasp on what he knows to be reality and experiencing the psychological and emotional turmoil that comes part and parcel with dementia. His performance transcends the screen, and cuts straight to your heart. You will feel only a fraction of what his character feels, yet you will feel so completely drawn into the story that your views on demential will be radically challenged. That what this film is, it’s an actors vehicle. In addition to the mindblowing performance of Hopkins, Olivia Coleman delivers an exceptional performance as the daughter. Personally, I like this performance even more than her award-winning role in The Favourite. Essentially taking place in one room, it’s up to the actors to carry the scenes, and each of them keep the audience drawn into their characters.

While The Father showcases outstanding performances in an intimate setting, it neglects the importance of plotting. What we have here is a powerful story (made of a sequence of events) that is missing a deliberate arrangement of those events as to reveal the dramatic and thematic significance. Fortunately the film boasts a prolific amount of emotional conflict, but the characters are missing goals, goals they either achieve or fail to achieve. A well-written and developed screenplay is more than a script, it’s a map of through three acts that take the audience and the characters on a journey. While film scholars and critics may argue over the number and placement of the various dramatic turning points, there is little argument over the importance and necessity of a well-defined central character with a well-defined external goal. The Father certainly has a well-defined and developed central character in Anthony and even a clearly defined leading character in Ann; however, writer-director Florian Zeller does not provide any external goals for our central or supporting characters. Dealing with life is not a goal, it’s incidental to achieving the external goal. What is the external element that Anthony wants? Answer: his flat. Only problem is, the flat isn’t his from the beginning. Therefore, he doesn’t own a flat to lose. Since he doesn’t have an external goal, we are left with dealing with life, which is not a goal. And without a goal, we have no destination for the characters. What are these characters working towards? Answer: nothing.

Better suited for the stage, The Father is an innovative cinematic exercise that delivers exemplary performances in spades, and challenges our preconceived notions of what dealing with dementia must be like. We are ostensibly placed in the mind and body of an aging individual like has never been done before. But the film is held back from it’s full potential by neglecting the importance of plotting. But there is a powerful, emotionally driven sequence of events that taps into our empathy in true poetic fashion.

Ryan teaches screenwriting and film studies at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

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Top 10 Most Memorable Movie Moms for Mothers Day

With Mothers Day this weekend, I thought I would count down my Top 10 picks for most memorable movie mothers! Some moms are endearing, some are overbearing, and others are terrifying. But they all have one thing in common: how well we remember them. Some have become such a part of the zeitgeist; so much so, that people who haven’t even seen the movies, know precisely who these mothers are. Whether they are winning our hearts through their steadfast love or through their incredibly close, protective relationship with their kid, there is something to be loved about each and every one.

10. Helen Parr (The Incredibles): Helen Parr is one of the most memorable mothers from movies because she both figuratively and quite literally holds her family together. I admire her for the endless support she shows Bob and the kids. Whilst maintaining her role as a mother, she also saves the world. Holly Hunter’s voice work is outstanding, such a charismatic performance. Like any good mother, she takes the time to listen to her kids’ needs and wants. And while she is empathetic and flexible, she is willing to stretch in order to provide the best possible care and guidance for her kids and husband.

9. Molly Weasley (Harry Potter): “Not my daughter, you bitch!” What a delivery by Julie Walters! Molly is a woman of considerable talent and skill to run a large household and remain one of the most powerful witches in the Harry Potter universe! She has the superpowers of a marvelous mother and a brilliant witch. Yet, she never flaunts her talents or accomplishments in front of anyone. While many skillful, powerful people would seek to impress and control others with their abilities, she remains a humble caregiver. However, if you threaten her kids, then she will turn into a mother tiger and pounce on you.

8. Aurora Greenway (Terms of Endearment): Played by Shirley MacLaine, Aurora puts her beloved, and at times estranged, daughter Emma before anyone else. She would do anything for her daughter, even though her methods may come across as abrasive and ridged. She is a feisty widow and mother whom won’t bat an eye before she tells you what she thinks. Her comebacks are witty, brutally honest, and fast. Even though she may get lost in her own anxiety over things that she cannot ultimately control, she will remain by her daughter through thick or thin. Her level of loyalty and love runs runs deep as the ocean.

7. M’Lynn Eatenton (Steel Magnolias): That graveside funeral scene is one of my favorites in all of cinema! The emotionally charged conflict with her own grieving and her friends is electrifying! I love how M’Lynn takes audiences through the entire stages of grief in just a few minutes. M’Lynn is completely devoted to her family, especially her daughter Shelby and her battle with Type-1 diabetes. M’Lynn is the very definition of a steel magnolia because she is as complex and beautiful as a delicate flower, yet she is incredibly strong, withstanding all the pressures of being a mother and friend. She is the very glue that holds her family together. While she is strong, even she is not immune to the tragedies of the world. But she demonstrates resilience in order to remain an anchor for all those around her.

6. Peg Boggs (Edward Scissorhands): There is perhaps no more prolific movie mom than the incomparable Diane Wiest! I was able to visit the home of Peg last summer when I decided to locate the neighborhood from the movie since it was shot near Tampa, where I live. And there it was! THE house and neighborhood. She is a mom whom is generous with time, resources, and the love she demonstrates. More than a caregiver, she sought to truly understand Edward and provide the motherly love and attention that he lacked. Talk about magnanimous. She opened her home and heart to a neighbor in need, even though he looked different than her and certainly stood out in that perfect little slice of suburbia. Peg believes that everyone deserves a fair shot at pursuing their dreams!

5. Morticia Addams (The Addams Family): While there have been many iterations of Morticia Addams, my favorite is Angelica Huston! Morticia Addams is one of the most proud mothers ever. Not proud as in haughty, proud as is her unyielding belief in her family and all their quirks. I love her perfect balance of elegance and homespunness. She consistently encourages her family to pursue their dreams, whether altruistic or morbid. While some moms may forget that they can still be sexy, sensual, and romantic, Morticia keeps the romance alive with her and Gomez. Whenever one of her kids has a problem, she never lets them feel defeated. Instead, she picks them back up and gives them encouraging words, in a very Addams fashion of course, to get right back up and try again. A constant source of morbid positivity, Morticia is never afraid to state her opinion, but when she does, you can be assured that she will state it with utter politeness.

4. Ellen Ripley (Aliens): “Get away from her, you bitch!” Sigourney Weaver’s career defining role of Ellen Ripley demonstrates that you don’t have to be a biological mother to provide the protection and care for a child! While she may not technically be a mother, she is every bit a mother as the best of them! We first meet Ripley in the original practically perfect motion picture and horror classic Alien, but it’s not that portrayal that lands her on this list, it’s her role as Ripley in the sequel that sets her apart as one of the most memorable mothers in all of cinema. Even though Newt isn’t the biological daughter of Ripley, she adopts her as her own and protects her with everything she’s got! Whether Ripley is protecting her from schoolyard bullies or nightmarish aliens, Newt is safe under the protection of a final girl who’s also a complete badass that won’t ever back down. And c’mon, the was she commands that transformers like suit, is timeless.

3. Joan Crawford (Mommie Dearest): “No wire hangers–ever!” “Tina, bring me the axe.” Faye Dunaway’s tour de force performance as one of Hollywood’s Golden Era greats has been met with constant criticism from the day she took on the iconic role of Joan Crawford. Fortunately, it’s not the performance that anyone questions but the vicious content and accusations the movie makes of Joan and her daughter. The reason that Joan Crawford breaks the Top 3 on this list is because there is perhaps no greater or more widely known over-the-top, campy performance by a mother than in the cult classic Mommie Dearest. I mean, it’s in the very title of the film! This movie is a truly terrifying exploration of the warped psyche of a once great star that is fading into obscurity as she struggles to provide the love that Tina needs. $300 dresses and elaborate birthday parties aren’t what Tina wants–she simply wants to be loved by the movie star. Joan Crawford was obsessed with her career and with the idea of being a mother. But those are two things that she cannot ultimately control. And it’s that lack of picture perfect control that drives her to absolutely terrorize Tina.

2. Pamela Voorhees (Friday the 13th): “You see, Jason was my son, and today is his birthday” “kill her mommy, kill her.” Betsy Palmer’s Pamela Voorhees remains one of the most original and fascinating villains in slasher movie history! Spoiler alert: she is the killer in the original Friday the 13th, not Jason. Of course, if you’ve seen SCREAM, then you know that already. Mrs. Voorhees is completely devoted to her son Jason. She was his protector. When fellow campers teased him, she was there to defend him and dry his years. He was her entire world. Mrs. Voorhees would do anything for Jason in life or death. She proves that nothing, absolutely nothing is stronger than a mother’s love. Borrowing from a line from Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, “revenge is better than Christmas.” Mrs. Voorhees is driven by revenge. She will make sure than all horny camp counselors at Camp Crystal Lake will pay for the sins of their predecessors because they were making love while her “sweet Jason” drown. The connection between Mrs. Voorhees and Jason is so incredibly strong that not even death can break it. That’s the power of this mother.

Twitter mentions: I put this topic out on Twitter, and I heard from Gidgit VonLaRue of the RetroCinema Podcast, and she simply stated “Diane Weist. Any movie. Any role.” Simple yet highly effective, as Diane is the most prolific mother to ever hit the screen.

1. Norma Bates (Psycho): “A boy’s best friend is his mother.” The most memorable of all movie mothers is Norma Bates! Even though she isn’t in a single scene (except for her corpse), she maintains an oppressive, overbearing presence in every frame. She controlled Norman when she was alive, and she continues to pull the strings in her death. Much in the same way Mrs. Voorhees inspires Jason to kill, Norma forces Norman to kill whenever she feels that her relationship with her son is threatened by an outside force. Mother Bates also maintains a watchful eye over everything that happens at her house and motel. Always watching for potential threats to her poltergeist-like existence. Norma loves Norman, but perhaps she should have loved just a little less. The love Norma had for Norman possesses an almost supernatural element to it. Of course, all of this is in Norman’s head, but that doesn’t take away from the very real presence Mother has throughout the entire motion picture. Mother is Norman and Norman is Mother, they are one in the same. Matricide is perhaps the saddest, most disturbing crime there is, and when Norman killed his mother and her boyfriend, he could’ve live with himself. So he brought her back to life! And even though she isn’t breathing, she is incredibly real. The single greatest scene in all of cinema features the most memorable mother in all of movie history!

I’d also like to take a moment to give a shoutout to my mom! While she may not be a mom from a movie that you can see in the cinema, she is the mom in the movie of my life. Ever since I can remember, she has always been a constant cheerleader for me and my dreams. Never once has she discouraged me; however, she will offer up her wisdom or opinion on decisions I make or directions I choose to go. Even when I’ve screwed up, she was right there to help me through it and make sure I learned my lesson. She’s always put her family before anyone else, even herself. When I was very young, and my dad was still in graduate school, I remember my mom doing without on birthdays and Christmasses so she could give her kids the very best. It’s not the things that I remember as much as it is the waves of generosity, support, and love. Even though I live nearly 500 miles from my mom, she is always right there when I need her. I absolutely love and look forward to our trips to our favorite restaurants when I am in town, watching movies together, and helping her with video production to support her music class at the school where she’s been teaching for more than twenty years. My prayer is that I never take one moment with my mom for granted, and cherish every last minute. From trips to theme parks to simply going to the supermarket, she is the best mom I could have ever asked for.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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