ON THE SCREEN

A Tangle of time and truth

The Father

Directed by Florian Zeller
(UK, 2020)

Review by Kate Roberts

What’s the point of telling a story out of order? Usually, it’s to build mystery and suspense (I’m looking at you, Memento). Sometimes, in more exciting movies, it’s a necessary part of time travel (no way around it, eh Looper?) But on rare occasions, the only way to tell a story truthfully is to take the pages of a linear plot, toss them into the air, and tell it how they land. It won’t make sense to anyone – least of all the storyteller – but sometimes nonsense is someone’s reality. When all the pages get jumbled and the sun rises in the evening, both character and audience settle into a point of view that is mystifying, deceiving and, most of all, distressing.

When a story proceeds in a linear way for every character except the main one, two things fight for dominance in every scene: truth and kindness. Is it better to tell the truth to a protagonist lost in time or to play along and be kind? That is the reality for Anthony (Anthony Hopkins). Anthony, now in his 80s, lives independently in his beautiful London flat. He listens to opera, drinks tea and suffers regular visits from his daughter, Anne (Olivia Colman). Anne thinks her father could benefit from a live-in nurse or at least a caregiver, but Anthony is perfectly capable of taking care of himself in her flat. Hang on. Her flat? When did the walls change colour? Why have all the pictures moved? The Father covers an indiscernible period of time as Anthony’s mind slips a little more each day, first forgetting events, then faces, then his surroundings. Scenes start at the end and end at the beginning as Anthony’s mind muddles with time. All the while, Anne stumbles behind, trying to put his broken pieces back in order, juggling the choice between being truthful and being kind.

The Father breaks the mold. As confusing as the storyline is, the story itself is not confusing at all. We immediately recognize the signs of dementia and understand Anne’s position. Once those two points become clear, everything else is just dressing. It’s hard to tell if The Father takes place over one day, one week or one year. Anthony seems to decline quickly, but given that dinner is served at 8 p.m. when the sun is coming up, who’s to say for sure? Anthony has a knack for asking the same questions and losing the same things, and there’s strong symbolism in the object that he loses the most: his watch. Anthony, like the audience after just a few scenes, has lost track of time both physically and metaphorically. It’s the eventual recognition of the second that’s the most frightening.

I can’t see how The Father would have worked without Hopkins or Colman. Anthony isn’t crazy, he’s confused, and it takes a master to jump through all the moments of a life, from childhood to old age, in a single scene. Sometimes he’s the old man contemplating his surroundings, and the next minute he’s a young flirt telling wild stories to make a girl smile. When his people occasionally choose truth over kindness, Anthony plays along like he’s up to speed when we know, of course, that huge swaths of time are missing or misremembered.

On the receiving end stands Anne – sometimes. That is, when Anthony’s mind hasn’t replaced her with someone else. Anne is unshakably patient, and if it were anyone else, we might ask why. Why endure the abuse? Why care for a father who loves your sister more? Why sacrifice your happiness for his cruelty? Because love. Very few actors could stare into the void and make us see love, but in Colman it’s just obvious. We don’t need words to know this is the hardest thing she’s ever done, the hardest days she’s ever lived, and that after every episode, she weighs whether it’s all worth it. Of course, the answer is always yes. Because love.

The Father doesn’t so much tell a story as get caught up in one. It’s a series of spirals that twist around each other, mixing up places, people and conversations. Like hair trapped in a brush – countless lines of truth all tangled up in each other with no beginning or end. It’s a beautiful, frustrating mess. The Father illustrates what it must feel like to have dementia, not just from the family’s point of view, which we’ve seen before, but from the patient’s perspective. It’s sad, yes, very sad (thank you, Colman), but it’s mostly terrifying. It’s like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, saying “curiouser and curiouser” all the way, but with no hope of ever climbing back out. The Father is a must-see movie that will rifle through the sock drawer of your emotions before stuffing them back in, disheveled and with all the left socks missing. It’s a masterpiece 9/10.

Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes
Available on Prime Video

 Kate Roberts grew up in the Glebe and is a movie addict who has been writing reviews since 2013. Her reviews can be found at plentyofpopcorn.wordpress.com.

Originally published online at Click here!.


A Well-told story that holds up

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Directed by Henry Selick
(US, 1993)

Review by Angus Luff

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a 1993, stop-motion, animated musical directed by Henry Selick. The story was written by Tim Burton, who also produced the movie.

Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon/Danny Elfman) is the king of Halloween Town, which is filled with ghouls, vampires, ghosts and other creatures who celebrate Halloween as their main source of happiness. However, Jack gets tired of Halloween and while wandering in the dead of night, he discovers doors that lead to their own respective holiday towns. He accidentally enters the Christmas Town door, quickly falls in love with the holiday and decides he will celebrate it and even take it over with his own Halloween twist. But Jack’s secret admirer, Sally (Catherine O’Hara), has a horrible premonition that the Christmas plan will end in flames. She tries to stop it, but Jack and the town are fully convinced they should pursue this new holiday.

It seems I’ve been on a Halloween roll lately in terms of movies, a horror-themed binge that was not limited to just October. There’s something so addicting about watching movies with similar motifs and flavours, one after the other, during a particular time or setting that fits the mood. Thankfully, The Nightmare Before Christmas satisfies as both a Halloween and a Christmas film, which means I get another excuse to do a “scary” movie that also fits around Christmas time. It’s such a unique idea – this sort of holiday swap hadn’t really been done before in a popular, mainstream, family film. The creativity doesn’t end with just the basic idea of the film. The sets, puppets, lighting and colours are all so vibrant and imaginative that you’re not surprised it was based on a storybook – the whole film feels like a storybook come to life. Stop-motion animation also has a certain power above all other forms of animation that brings out a nostalgic, warm feeling that perfectly fits holiday films you’ll revisit year after year.

There’s a reason I started with a plot synopsis – the film is so quick and breezy that it gets to the point very effectively without any extra fat or content. It’s so efficient at building this unique world, but also at explaining what’s happening using catchy, well-composed, total earworms of songs that are staples of the season they represent. It’s so simple that you can’t really start a review with anything but the plot – the film just doesn’t provoke any complex discussions about how the legacy of older films detracts from their goal or how directors are hated simply because they are different. It’s just accepted nowadays as The Nightmare Before Christmas. The only discussion to have in 2021 is how well the film has held up. The simplicity is one of the best things about it. Its short runtime, simple plot and unique look and feel seem like a real treat now, when many of kids’ films are overly long and date themselves. This film only gets better with age as we crave simpler, well-told stories.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is such a breath of fresh air with great music, breath-taking animation and looks, and it has a good time with its darkly funny and simple story. It’s everything a holiday movie should be because it’s so easy to watch and immerse yourself in every year. The Nightmare Before Christmas gets extra points for often being watched twice a year around both Halloween and Christmas, adding to the iconic imagery burning into our memory. I’m sure most people have seen and loved it, but if you haven’t, don’t expect a big, epic scale – it’s a way simpler story, but that’s what makes it work.

Available on Disney Plus
Running time: 76 minutes

Angus Luff is a student at Glebe Collegiate. He grew up in the Glebe and is obsessed with movies.

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