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Photo: ‘The Son’
‘The Father’ was a trip through an elder’s battle with dementia. It won a plethora of Oscar’s and came out in 2021. ‘The Son’ is the second film in Florian Zeller’s trilogy dealing with a family’s struggle with generational trauma and mental instability. Let’s discuss if this film was rushed.
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Before seeing ‘The Son’ I recommend seeing the first film because this will help jumpstart the overall tones of the second film. The film is very serious and focuses on the three generations within a family that show signs of trauma. The trauma in this film comes from a place of abandonment rather than dementia.
Our main characters are two sons stretched through generational trauma. I have seen many critics bash this film, and some points they bring up are valid, but still, I choose to focus on the message the film represents. Maybe this needed more time, but time in Hollywood is fleeting.
This message is about how our actions and decisions affect those around us. Sometimes they affect us in ways we never thought possible, yet the destiny of personal trauma invites us in. An absent father can do one of two things, create a wonderful young man intent on not being the same way or create a man that is a spitting image of his creator.
The first film had a personalized feel with camera techniques and methods that drew us into the character and the way he was feeling. Now we see a son, who has grown up to be a workaholic like his father. This time they use different methods to keep us interested.
They use handheld camera movements in intense emotional scenes, adding raw feelings that the characters would have. Each moment is sporadically influenced by random actions and emotions, which the loose camera movements dictate very well.
Hugh Jackman’s character Peter has a son with Laura Dern’s Character, Kate. His name is Nicholas (Zen McGrath). Nicholas is having struggles from the onset of the film with his feelings. We know that Peter has divorced his wife and met a new lover in Beth (Vanessa Kirby.) They now have a baby and it seems Nicholas feels left out.
As the story continues on, the parents show a desire to listen to Nicholas’s struggle. He moves in with his father to try and change his perception of life. Unfortunately, when going through his issues, Nicholas doesn’t want support. Just like an addict, one can only receive support if one chooses it. In extreme circumstances, may be forced.
Mental health is a huge issue all around the world. This film sheds light on the circle of abuse one puts themself through when feeling miserable. You might be stuck in a well, and without a rope, you can seem abandoned in loneliness. Nicholas represents these struggles and the simple fact that you can’t just walk out of depression without the proper support. A father also just can’t walk out on his son.
This leads me to the parents. Peter seems oblivious to the fact that his son is struggling on this level. This puts the generational trauma into place when he goes to see his father. Anthony Hopkins plays his father, who represents the issues given to his grandson. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and we can now see where Peter’s ignorance of his own son stems from.
The parents in the film seem to be uncaring, and very insensitive to their son’s mental health needs. This resonates with a lot of us considering the state of mental health care around the world. Given the nature of the story and some unneeded foreshadowing, I was able to predict the entire film until the end.
The portrait of depression is very valid in ‘The Son.’ It shows that nothing can stop a human from having certain emotions and feelings. It shows us that no matter how hard someone can be pushed in the correct direction, they may need much more help than a previously absent father.
My own father was not part of my life and so I can feel for Nicholas at times, but I can not feel for the father. Not only did he repeat what his father had done to him, but he kept objects in his house that should not be kept there given the circumstances. Yes, trauma can extend into multiple generations but when you have the wealth and access to help as Peter’s family had, it is a very unlikely scenario. Especially when Peter seemed to be caring enough outside of his work.
This is what makes Cinema beautiful though. These snapshots of mental health are vague enough to encroach on our own experiences. There is a flashback that reminds us that we have to live before it is too late. That we must make the most of the time we have with those we love.
The message of the film was not lost on me even through the convoluted script. The film is saying that everyone should make time for those they love. We only have one shot, and when it is gone we can not get it back. Time is the master of us all, no matter what we do, it can not be reversed.
Acting in a film like this is very difficult. Living in these extreme scenarios that deal with really deep emotional aspects of our existence is taxing on an actor. They have to channel these things constantly and I praise Zen for his portrayal of a teenager with immense trauma. His father, like his father before, has abandoned him for life at work. This is something a lot of people are familiar with in America. Overworking parents are a death sentence for adolescent growth.
When I was in high school, a kid hung himself because his father was absent and all he wanted was his father’s unconditional love. He never got it. While this is not necessarily his father’s fault, it goes to show you that the Harlow studies were very right. Proper care of mental health is necessary especially for a child. Properly loved children mostly grow into properly loving parents.
Florian Zeller and Hugh Zackman
Florian gave us another look into a section of the mental health struggle that means so much. Even though I was thrown off by some of the script and the constant ignorance of the parents. Ignorance is bliss until it comes and takes everything away from you. Then it becomes about our decisions and how to make better ones.
The film is out now in select theaters in Los Angeles and New York. It opens nationwide on January 20, 2023. Trauma is in our hands to fix, and to prevent. I will always believe awareness helps change the world.
If you know anyone struggling from years of trauma or depression please have them call SAMHSA’s national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP. It is hard to make the first steps, but there is always a way to change your perception and move forward. Life is always worth living.
Writer/Director – Florian Zeller
Mentioned Cast – Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Zen McGrath, Anthony Hopkins
By Nathan Paul Pasquale
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