The Father: Hopkins Deserved His Oscar




Lionsgate/Sony Classics, 97 minutes, PG-13 (language, trauma)




One wonders why the Academy Awards bothered to air, given that the Covid pandemic kept most people out of movie theaters. Very few have seen The Father, so perhaps you are curious whether veteran British actor Sir Anthony Hopkins deserved a Best Actor Oscar. The answer is, yes, absolutely. The late Chadwick Boseman, a superb actor, was a sentimental favorite for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. I’ve not yet seen that film, but I’m sure Boseman sparkled. That said, performances such as Hopkins’ are rare and deserve to be honored.


The Father is powerful and moving. Hopkins plays Anthony, an elderly man whose grasp on reality is deteriorating. Although he has lived in an apartment owned by his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) for many years, he believes it’s the other way around. That’s the least of his issues. Sometimes he thinks Anne is married to Paul or Bill, though there are two men he “sees” as Anne’s husband (Rufus Sewell, Mark Gatiss), and sometimes he thinks she’s abandoning him to move to Paris with someone named James. There are moments in which he sees a caregiver named Laura (Imogen Potts) as his youngest daughter Lucy, and others in which he’s annoyed by Laura and insists, rather rudely, that he doesn’t need her and she should get out of his apartment. Or perhaps Laura is another person altogether (Olivia Williams), or maybe she’s Anne or a nurse named Catherine.


The Father is, sadly, a spot-on portrayal of someone with dementia. It is a maddening and heart-wrenching condition. When Anthony is lucid, he is a charming crank. When he first meets Laura, he tells her he was once a professional tap dancer and snaps off a sample for her amusement. Anne is astounded, as her father was actually an engineer! In his more confused moments, Anthony is convinced Paul or Bill are hurting him, or he can’t work out why the corridor to his apartment opens onto a hospital corridor.


Director Florian Zeller originally wrote The Father as a stage play, which would have been a fine format for the story. As a movie, The Father doesn’t venture out of the apartment very much, which also makes sense. After all, Anthony’s world is becoming increasingly claustrophobic. Full credit, though, to Zeller, because he keeps his audience as much in the dark as Anthony. We are never entirely certain which rooms actually exist and which ones are constructs inside of Anthony’s muddled mind. One brief flash on Lucy is probably the tip off of why she never visits her father, but we can’t even be sure of that. Nor can we tell with 100% certainty if Anne is married, separated, divorced, or was never married at all. In essence, Zeller positions us on ground that shifts as often as Anthony’s.


Hopkins is a brilliant illusionist. When he beguiles, are we seeing Anthony before his center began to crumble, or is it merely another fabricated fantasy room? When he rages, is his that of someone forced to act against his own will, or is it deeper internal outburst against what a small slice of him recognizes as his selfhood eroding? Or perhaps something even more primal, like naked fear?


Colman is equally impressive. As some of you know, my mother died from Alzheimer’s. Colman captures the rollercoaster of emotions that come from trying to care for someone whose mental marbles have escaped from the bag and are rolling toward the storm drain. Even the deepest love for another is challenged if that person repeats things like a programed talking doll and changes moods in the middle of a sentence, yet occasionally seems just enough like the genuine self to offer false hope. Colman–who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar*–plays Anne as one who, in her own way, is just as much at sea as her father.  


The Father is a classic ‘tough’ film and joins the ranks of others like Away from Her, Still Alice, and Amour that have dealt with dementia. In my mind, Amour remains the best of the lot, but Hopkins deeply deserves the acting hardware Emmanuelle Riva should have won in 2012. The Father is a film you might tell yourself you don’t wish to see. That’s exactly why you should.


Rob Weir


* Youn Yuh-jung won the 2021 Best Supporting Actress this year. Colman who as Best Actress in 2019 for The Favourite.


The Hare: A Cautionary Tale?

THE HARE (2021)

By Melanie Finn

Two Dollar Radio Books, 320 pages





Can two damaged people find happiness in each other? What if one has no confidence and the other a highly distorted sense of reality?


Hares are shy, a trait that defines Rosie to a T. She was raised by a censorious grandmother in Lowell, Massachusetts. As Rosie put it, she grew up with the “cold, steady drizzle or Gran’s resentment.” She thinks she’s plain-looking and talentless. Rosie manages to obtain a scholarship to New York’s Parson School of Design, though she is convinced she has no real artistic talent–and she might be right. She has enormous difficulty in focusing or coming up with ideas.


The Hare shifts from Lowell to New York, and eventually to Southport, Connecticut, then Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Rosie’s main accomplishment in New York is to reconsider her physical appearance. This comes courtesy of Bennett Kinney, who claims to adore Rosie for her innocence and beauty. He is an unlikely suitor in that he’s nearly twice her age, is erudite, has fancy associates, and claims to deal in art and estate objects. Maybe. Lots of things about Bennett sound better coming out of his mouth than getting down to brass tacks. The Hare has been described as both a cautionary fairy tale and a tribute to female power. The first is certainly true; the second uncertain and problematic.


After being wined, dined, and courted, Rosie finds herself at a Southport housesit with Bennett and really begins to wonder if she’s out of her league. How many people have a Van Eyck hanging on the wall of their summer “cottage?” Or a boat house apartment that’s nicer than any place she has ever lived? People know Bennett there, though that’s not necessarily a good thing, as Bennett’s wealthy friends Hobie and Mitzi hint. Nor is Rosie sure exactly what Bennett and his associate Wheezie are up to. Because she’s a person of low self-esteem, Rosie struggles to determine if Bennett is shady or if she’s simply too inexperienced to comprehend what he tells her. To top it off, she’s pregnant and, in 1985, abortion is illegal.


Things get bit clearer when Bennett announces they are leaving Southport for Vermont, where he has been offered a teaching job at an offbeat small college near Barnet. (Sterling? Goddard?) They move into a poorly insulated cabin. Rural Vermont. Winter. Suspicious locals. Uh-oh. Were it not for the help of her cranky, rough-around-the-edges neighbor Billy, Rosie might not have survived. Billy teaches Rosie about things like woodstoves, wool socks, thrift store parkas, and coping with poverty. Bennett is seldom around and claims he has a room at the college as a reward for his stellar scholarship. Another perk is that they will soon send him to Paris. What is it Bob Dylan once wrote? “You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”


The Hare moves us from 1983 to 1985, 1991, 1993, and eventually 2019. On one level, The Hare is about how Rosie finds her groove. She notes, “Men mistake the act of submission for the condition of submission.” [Emphasis mine] But don’t unfurl the “Sisterhood is Powerful” banners. Rosie raises her daughter Miranda, copes, slowly integrates into the community, and becomes more self-sufficient, but her life isn’t exactly a vat of maple syrup. Many traumatic things will happen and there’s always the question of what do we do with a problem like Bennett. Not to mention there antigodlin locals who aren’t what they appear to be.


The Hare takes its title from Rosie’s character and from a frozen lagomorph she finds on her porch. The latter is a metaphor for the fragility of liife amidst harsh natural elements, and also for social class. Getting by is not the same as getting on. Many in the Northeast Kingdom are the sort for whom an unexpected car repair is an economic disaster. Author Melanie Finn drives home class themes throughout via various juxtapositions: Lowell versus New York, Southport versus the Kingdom, those with priceless art versus those who run of wood, those who can afford reassignment surgery versus those who buy cast-offs, and so on. Hers is not a flattering portrait of a nation severely split between have-everythings and have-nots. The novel sometimes suffers from being overly ambitious. Its sweep from 1983 to 2019 provides an arc for Rosie’s life, but involves foreshortening that make some actions and impulses less convincing than others. I shall leave it to you to determine whether the book’s denouement is effective and shocking, or implausible and contrived.


Rob Weir






Patrick Oliphant and Pops Peterson at Rockwell Museum

Pat Oliphant: Editorial Cartoons from the Nixon and Clinton Eras

Pops Peterson: Rockwell Revisited

Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Through May 31, 2021.


Illustrators and political cartoonists seldom get the attention of painters and sculptors. Luckily, the Norman Rockwell Museum piggybacks off its famed namesake to give due credit to those who toil in the same waters.


I have long admired the work of political cartoonist Patrick Oliphant (b. 1935). Not only is he a master at caricature, he has never been afraid to call it like it is. His work holds fire to the feet of those whose misdeeds warrant it. In today’s bifurcated nation, conservatives and liberals alike are quick to find the mote in the other’s eye while ignoring the beam in their own. That is, they ignore the foibles and malfeasance of those with whom they agree, but express outrage at every breath taken by those whose views they do not share. A current show at the Rockwell Museum juxtaposes Oliphant’s cartoons from the administrations of Richard Nixon (1969-74) with those of Bill Clinton (1993-2001).


Nixon, of course, will be forever remembered for Watergate, arguably the second worst threat to democracy in the modern era. Oliphant’s biting cartoons cast doubt on Nixon early on. His “Trust Me” references Nixon’s promise that he had a “secret plan” to end the Vietnam War. 




As we now know, that plan involved escalation of the war. Consider a cartoon depicting Nixon at the Lincoln Memorial as the flip side of “Trust Me.” His Vietnam policies–especially aerial bombings of Cambodia–sparked massive antiwar protests. By 1970, just 39% of the public approved of his handling of the war. That same year, Nixon attempted a bizarre ploy by paying a dawn visit to the Lincoln Memorial and trying to discuss the war with young protestors sleeping there. Epic fail! 



Two other Oliphant offerings call attention to two other unsavory aspects of the Nixon years. His veto of campaign spending caps set the stage for the Citizens United decision and the GOP's shameless defense of a best-democracy-money-can-buy society. “Nixon saves” is a corollary. In it, we see that he has “saved” defense contractors, but is willing to allow those needing social services to fend for themselves.



But Pat Oliphant knows that the Hall of Shame has room for both parties. I have never understood liberals’ love of the Clintons, who have plenty of sleaze on their hands. Like Nixon, he distrusted the Clintons from the start. He drew them as Ozark hillbillies bent on looting anything not nailed down. Other cartoons deal with Whitewater and Hillary’s law firm. 



As we know, old Bonkin’ Bill was ultimately impeached for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. A particularly clever and nasty illustration shows us Bill with a dictionary in hand looking up the word perjury. Embedded are two in-jokes. During one hearing he quibbled with inquisitors over the meaning of the word “is.” In this cartoon he is also holding a cigar in his hand. Those who followed the hearings will recall that his cigar also had another receptacle.  



Ken Starr, though, was supposed to find financial wrong-doing. His dogged pursuit of the Lewinsky case ultimately bored the public and was perceived not as perjury, but as prurience. Bill wiggled free.




But Oliphant still saw the Clintons as carpetbaggers, a label he explicitly laid on Hillary in her New York Senate bid. Sounds right to me.




One revelation in the exhibit is that I had not known Oliphant was a sculptor as well. A displayed work of the lanky George H. Bush is like Giacometti-meets-presidential politics. 






Another small exhibit features the work of Stockbridge resident and business owner Pops Peterson. His show “Rockwell Revisited” pays homage to Norman Rockwell, who once lived across the street from where Peterson works. Peterson isn’t well known, but his work is clever and poignant. He has taken several classic Rockwell illustrations and updated them for this moment in time. Here are a few of his offerings, which I offer as a game for you to play. See if you can match them to Rockwell’s originals. If you need some help, go here: