When I looked The father in 2020, I was amazed. The film, about a man named Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and his strained relationship with his daughter (Olivia Colman), was an authentic portrayal of what it is like to emotionally cope with an illness. hard. Movies about Alzheimer’s disease tend to focus on the sufferer’s point of view, but The father dared to reckon with how the people around them are suffering too.
The film was the accomplished directorial debut from writer-director Florian Zeller, who adapted his own play brilliantly. The film went on to earn six Oscar nominations, winning two, one for Best Screenplay, the other for Best Actor (for Hopkins). It’s an impressive journey for a first film, but not surprising, given the way the film explored Anthony’s inner self. With his masterful handling of diegetic space and storytelling, Zeller immediately rose to the top of my radar, and I awaited his next project with great anticipation.
This next project is here, and it’s The son, also based on one of Zeller’s plays. (The Holy Spirit isn’t in the works yet, but I’ve chosen to hold out hope.) The film follows Nicholas (Zen McGrath), a 17-year-old who feels like he can’t live with his mother Kate (Laura Dern) anymore. . He seeks refuge from his inner turmoil by moving in with his father Peter (Hugh Jackman), a successful businessman, Peter’s new partner Beth (Vanessa Kirby), and their infant son. But Beth is worried about Nicholas, and Peter is given a major new job opportunity, so he barely gives his son time.
But Peter has to start paying attention, because Nicholas is in crisis. It turns out he hasn’t been to school for a month, which surprises Kate and Peter. In a moment between Nicholas and his father, he makes his pain clear, saying “I don’t know what’s happening to me.” It’s clear that their son needs some help that neither of them can provide – or rather, it’s clear to anyone watching the film, but this incredibly obvious fact seems to elude both parents for quite some time. time.
it hurts me to say that The son is not just a disappointing sequel to The father. It is also a terrible and irresponsible film. The real problem is his fatal misunderstanding of mental illness: it’s as if every line is read straight from a pamphlet titled “How not to talk about mental health. All of this manifests in the terribly horrific ending of the film. If for some reason you’re still keen to see The son– and I wouldn’t blame you; I was excited once – now it’s time to go, because a lot of spoilers are waiting for you. (I’m not entirely sure you can spoil a movie like The sonwho telegraphs his every move, but hey, I can understand you not wanting to know the ending until you see it.)
Things got progressively worse throughout the film – for Nicholas, for his parents, and, frankly, for everyone watching – and every moment it seems that while things are going to get better, they will eventually get worse. In an instant Nicholas is happily dancing with his dad and Beth, and seconds later Peter and Beth are kissing and completely forget that Nicholas is even there. Another scene shows Nicholas offering to babysit his little stepbrother, only for Beth to freak out at the mere thought of a “weird” like Nicholas taking care of her child. This constant – and I really mean constant – cycle of picking Nicholas up and dropping him makes the film’s conclusion all the more obvious.
After all the mistakes and slights from his parents who would feel right at home in an after-school special, Nicholas finally tries to kill himself. Fortunately, he is found in time and Nicholas’ parents decide to place him in intensive psychiatric care. Well, it’s not so much that they decide to get Nicholas the help he needs; it’s more like a doctor forcing their hand to do it, and they nod.
Finally, there is a sense of peace. It’s like, with Nicholas in treatment, Kate, Peter and Beth can finally live their lives without the burden of their depressed son. It’s a pretty dreadful feeling, and my skin was crawling even as I wrote those words. But The son is not the master class in sentimentality and understanding it so clearly thinks it is. His self-importance and authoritative score bludgeons you, making it hard to come across as sincere. (Hans Zimmer, you betrayed me.) What the movie really seems to say is that no problem like Nicholas (ugh), these people can get on with their lives (ick).
The most pivotal scene comes after this when Kate and Peter meet the doctor in charge of Nicholas’ care. He is stern but professional, warning them that when he is momentarily reintroduced to their son, he will immediately beg and plead to be brought home. The doctor explains that he has seen this happen several times and that it is imperative that the patient remains under the care of the hospital. The doctor couldn’t be clearer: let Nicholas go home, and it’s almost certain he’ll attempt suicide again.
What follows is a lot of screaming and crying, as Nicholas does exactly what the doctor said he would do. It could (and really should) to be an extremely emotional scene, but it all feels so hollow. The movie has made it clear time and time again that he doesn’t care about Nicholas, and frankly, neither does his parents. They think so, but they’re so invested in themselves and their own lives that they see right behind him. It is dishonest to see Nicolas begging and imploring people who look completely devastated; it’s deeply unpleasant and upsetting, given that we’ve seen the film torture him without any repercussions. Worse, it is clear that what we watch acts, in more ways than one.
In the end, Kate and Peter do something right: they listen to the doctor and refuse to take Nicholas home. It’s a tough decision for a parent to make, but they do it because they know they’ll be better off in the long run. Or so you would think. Moments later, they sit in a car on their way home and the ridiculous music blares as they share a look that tells you everything you need to know – these irresponsible people are going to keep being irresponsible.
Soon after, Nicholas is back home with his parents. Beth has taken the baby to visit his parents, so there is only Kate, Peter and Nicholas left, the family unit he was waiting for but no longer has. There is a moment of serenity as the three talk to each other, and Nicholas gives a long monologue about how he loves his family. It should sound emotional, but the movie didn’t do anything to show it cares about Nicholas, so it’s just one of many moments to remind you that The son is based on a play.
Literally moments after his parents mention that they shouldn’t let him out of their sight, Nicholas leaves alone to take a shower, which is apparently completely fine and doesn’t concern them in the least. It’s a red flag the size of North America, but Kate and Peter are too invested in themselves and each other to notice. There’s an eerie quiet as the two talk to each other about going to the movies as a family, but it’s quickly interrupted by the sudden bang of a gun.
I step back for a second. Peter has a gun in his apartment which was a gift from his father. The fact that he never thought to remove the gun from the house he was bringing his at-risk, suicidal child to tells you everything you need to know. Finally, all of The sonThe worst Chekhovian instincts came true.
You’d think that’s where the movie would end, but you’d be wrong. We then cut to the future, a few years later, where Peter has a long conversation with Nicholas. Nicholas shares how happy he is now – he has found the love of his life and moved to Toronto, which makes him happier than New York ever could. (As a Canadian, that’s the only thing that rings true in the whole movie. Sorry.) Nicholas even wrote a book he dedicated to his father.
“Society has evolved far beyond understanding of The Son’s mental health.”
This is, of course, a complete fantasy. Nicholas is dead, and no good will can bring him back. In the real world, Peter sits, as Beth comes over to comfort him. The son is so completely attached to his callousness and deafness that the man who would disregard his son’s endless pleas for help, even taking them as a kind of personal affront, would think that his son would one day dedicate a book to him. It’s a moment that completely strips Nicholas of any agency, putting it all on Peter and his experience with his son’s mental illness. Peter is the one who really had to suffer, after all, having a depressed son. It is despicable.
The root of the problem is that the film, like Kate and Peter, consistently neglects Nicholas. The son is far more invested in his parents – especially Peter and Beth – and how they constantly fail their son by not understanding him, ignoring him, or blaming him for his own sadness, without holding them accountable for those actions. In one particularly hot moment (judging by the context, it’s supposed to be extremely dramatic with a capital D), Peter yells at Nicholas, “When you hurt yourself, it’s like you hurt me.” Seriously. Maybe it would have flown five or even 10 years ago, but society has moved on a long time ago. The sontheir understanding of mental health.
The son could have been an effective showcase of how insensitivity and lack of understanding can lead to preventable tragedies. Maybe that should have been it. Instead, Florian Zeller forces us to sit through this laborious, grotesque, emotionally taxing and cruel story. It’s a movie of such selfish importance that it completely overlooks the most important character, and he’s right in the title. The son is an embarrassment, an affront to those with mental health issues, and a dramatically inept story that relies on overwhelming musical cues, lackluster directing, and wooden acting to give its comically outdated script any semblance of life. This is the worst movie and the worst ending of 2022.