In The Father, different actors playing the same role is confusing at first, but is actually the perfect choice to represent dementia and memory loss.
In the Oscar-winning film The Father, the creative team made a unique and surprising casting choice when they decided to have multiple actors play the same character. The film, based on director and co-writer Florian Zeller’s own play by the same name (Le Père), is an intimate portrayal of aging, memory loss, and dementia.
At the 2021 Oscars, Anthony Hopkins won a surprise Academy Award for his career-best performance as Anthony, an aging man who struggles to accept that he is losing his memory and cognitive function. One moment seeming completely lucid and the next not recognizing his apartment or his daughter, Anthony dips in and out of memory and presence. The film does an excellent job of putting the audience in his shoes.
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One of the key ways The Father helps audiences see the world through Anthony’s eyes is by casting multiple actors as the same character, so even the audience can never fully be sure of who is who. At the beginning of the film, Olivia Coleman (The Crown) plays Anthony’s daughter Anne, who is his primary caretaker, and tells him she’s moving to Paris to be with a man. The next morning, Anthony finds a man named Paul, played by Mark Gatiss (Sherlock), living in his home and saying he is Anne’s husband. This time, when Anne returns, she is played by an entirely different actor, Olivia Williams (An Education).
The same dynamic happens with Imogen Poots (French Exit), who first appears as the new caretaker Laura who just so happens to remind Anthony of his other daughter, Lucy. Later on, Williams takes over the role of Laura, too, before her final appearance as the nurse in the hospital. Further on, when Anthony is convinced that his nurse stole his watch from him and that his daughter is stealing his apartment from him, Paul is played by another actor, Rufus Sewell (The Man In The High Castle). Then, Gatiss returns as another of Anthony’s nurses, Bill, in the hospital.
If all this switching about is confusing, it’s because it’s meant to be. The audience can likely guess that Coleman is the “real” Anne, but The Father doesn’t ever make clear who the “real” Paul, Laura, Lucy, etc. are. Those watching this film are left to wonder, with a strange sense of being suspended in reality and time, what is “true” and what is “made up.” This mirrors Anthony losing touch with reality throughout the film, never knowing what he can believe. The film The Father is trying to get the audience to feel like they can’t trust their own senses, so they can understand a little bit of what it’s like for someone with dementia to lose faith in theirs.
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