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He said he was playing his father. The award-winning performance Anthony Hopkins presented in the film THE FATHER was perhaps the most astounding acting I have ever seen. If someone had clipped any particular scene and examined it, they would have been hard pressed to identify any acting at all. Anthony Hopkins was simply an aging engineer suffering from dementia. He didn’t lean on the excellent dialogue of the script to express what he was feeling. His face needed no words. He could slip from composed to cruel to frightened, using his magnificent voice to emphasize. He was shadowed by Olivia Colman, a renowned actor in her own right, who played his daughter enacting the truths he believed were happening. She switched subtleties of motivations and character with his perceptions.
Part of the film’s magic came from the script itself. Instead of observing someone with dementia, the action pulled the viewer inside the experience where chronology tumbled in confusion, some story lines weren’t real, and characters might change from the familiar to strange. By the end, I could have sworn the rigor of his part had reduced the great Anthony Hopkins to a sad old man. I recognized him.
Watching depictions of decrepitude becomes more difficult as we reach so-called senior status. Especially now, when the news reminds us daily of our vulnerability to disease and lingering death while warning that all we thought we did that was good in our lives may be gone before we are. As I watched THE FATHER, I distracted myself with my awe over the acting, but underneath my exclamations of appreciation squirmed my fears. Speaking for myself, I don’t dread death but the prospect of decline unnerves me. I don’t know if I have the emotional or financial resources to finish my life with dignity. I used to volunteer in nursing facilities, reading mail for those visually impaired and chatting with people who had once commanded presence and respect. One charming bedridden lady described her very real encounters with Ernest Hemingway.
As we age, we gradually discard our brittle physical selves. One bodily part after another stops functioning properly, reminding us to live exquisitely because an end to this life is inevitable and lies in wait. The good news is we finally realize we need answer to no one. If we gain wisdom, it is an expression of the purification available to us as we cast aside the opinions of others in favor of honoring the integrity of our souls. Those who believe our spirits go on realize the accomplishments of earth were never our true goals. The ways in which we coped with the challenges of everyday life will speak for or against us. Those who’ve gone through Near Death Experiences or past life regression report that we endure all the emotions—good and bad—we caused in others when we undergo life review after death. The word “love” stops being trite, particularly when it’s scraped free of conditions. So we look around to see if the space around us is a teeny bit brighter for our presence. If not, why not? We need to discard “shoulds,”relax, and enjoy the love and connections we have or can make. THE FATHER reminds us that reality balances precariously on what we believe.