Florian Zeller wrote and directed The Father a couple of years in which Anthony Hopkins won his second Academy Award for playing an elderly gentleman who suffers from dementia. This was controversial because he beat out Chadwick Boseman who would have won a posthumous Oscar for his role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. The Son is Zellers follow-up to The Father but it is a prequel to that film. It is once again based on his play of the same name.
Peter (Hugh Jackman) is a well-to-do lawyer in New York. He has a wife, Beth (Vanessa Kirby), and a baby. They seem to have a family life together. When his ex-wife Kate (Laura Dern) calls saying there is a problem with their teenage son Nicholas (Zen McGrath) he has to step in to help him out. He asks his father if he can come live with him and Jackman’s character says yes, but there’s more to this kid than meets the eye.
Zeller ties this film to The Father in the fact that Hopkins’ character from that film is the father of Jackman’s character in this film. That is though there is no other connection. The title is twofold though. Because of Jackman’s character not wanting to become his father and also focuses on the McGrath character. Their relationship is the main focus of this film. Which is the driving force of the story.
Jackman is primarily known for playing Logan/Wolverine in multiple X-Men and Wolverine films but he has branched out to some musicals like The Greatest Showman, and Le Miserables. He has also done some dramatic work in Prisoner, Real Steel, and The Prestige. Bad Education, an HBO film, might have been the best work of his career though. He garnered some awards buzz for his performance. The Son might be the next best performance of his career. He shows genuine dramatic chops as this father who has to deal with his son and his problems.
Zeller tries to create a father-son story that is a modern story. Where anxieties and mental illness come into play. Back in the day, it would be an afterthought of melancholia if a young person had depression and was directionless in his or her life. Now everything has a diagnosis and so the doctors want to help the McGrath character but it’s not easy for the parents to deal with these clinical decisions by the doctors. It’s hard to digest this as a viewer as well. We can’t help but feel sorry for all parties involved.
The Son is a difficult film to watch on multiple levels. It reminded me of kids I knew when I was working at a local high school and coaching sports like football and basketball. Kids need a father figure in their lives. Divorce or separation can affect how they grow up. In my case, I had a brother who was my best friend and we grew up together and had a lot of similar interests. The kid in this film had no one and when his father finally stepped in he was a bit overbearing. That wasn’t the answer to this lost kid. The film gets to the heart of this kind of illness for young people which is debilitating in this day and age.
The Son has good direction and writing from Zeller in his follow-up to The Father. The performances by Kirby, Dern, McGrath, and Hopkins were fine but Jackman transcends in a movie about mental illness. As a man who had his own mental illnesses in my mid-thirties, I can relate to this story of being lost and having an overbearing father figure. I was just lucky I had other men I could look up to and my twin brother was my best friend growing up. It wasn’t easy on my own though. And this film shows how loneliness can drive someone mad.
Dan Skip Allen
One thought on “The Son Review-Zeller analyzes a different kind of illness this time out”
I think you have understood exactly where Florian was coming from with this movie. It’s actually more about Peter (Hugh) than Nicholas (Zen) as he is now both Father & Son. He is having to process his own feelings from being the Son to now being the Father, whilst attempting to help Nicholas, who is suffering with mental health issues, and trying to find the best way to support him, all the while feeling an unending amount of guilt from all directions. Emotional film with an outstanding performance by Hugh Jackman.