Longtime successful theater director Florian Zeller ventures into filmmaking in 2021. His acclaimed debut film The Father, an adaptation of his own play of the same name, won him two Oscars. The Room’s Play-like claustrophobic dementia drama with Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins as the nurturing father not only provided an oppressive atmosphere. In the apartment, as memories shift and intertwine, the perspectives of family members simultaneously merge into a poignant picture of a malignant disease.
by Madeline Egger
“The Son” is now the second theatrical adaptation of Zeller’s trilogy, which tells of the effects and difficulties of dealing with mental illness. The film premiered during the Venice Film Festival, and this time the family drama centers on exhausted parents dealing with their teenage son’s illness. The fact that Zeller went to extremes with the script for “The Son” is quickly noticed as the drama becomes more manipulative in pulling on feelings…
Things couldn’t be better for Peter (Hugh Jackman) now. Together with his new wife Beth (Vanessa Kirby) he has a son, and well-paying offers await him at the job. However, without warning, his ex-wife Kate (Laura Dern) shows up at the door. Distraught, she tells him that their 17-year-old son Nicholas (Zane McGrath) hasn’t been to school in four weeks and that he too has changed dramatically. Worried, they give Nicholas his wish to live with Peter and his new family from now on. But even if his father is determined to accompany Nicholas through tough times, the teen doesn’t do much better. All attempts to stir up the boy’s former happiness and help him get back on his feet fail. As the situation escalates, Kate and Peter realize they cannot provide the support their son so desperately needs.
Florian Zeller wrote the screenplay for the family drama at the beginning of the pandemic. At a time when the restrictions were increasingly leading to mental health problems, sparking a widespread mental health crisis and controversy. Now it became important for the director to take up the previously taboo topic and address it in his film. The biggest flaw in “The Son” is that Zeller doesn’t tell it from at least two perspectives the way “The Father” did before it. Here he describes depression that is difficult to put into words, exclusively from the perspective of relatives. This proves fatal, especially for the portrayed character of the 17-year-old high school student, who initially serves as a particular fulcrum in the story. He has made it clear more than once that he is having difficulties finding his way in life and is facing an overwhelming burden. For example, Zeller fails to categorize mood swings, unfriendliness, and secrecy through self-harm on the part of the boy as a possible protective mechanism or coping strategy and to create comprehensible connections between scenes. Atrophied in his one-dimensionality as an irascible, grieving, and withdrawn teenager, Nicholas is thus merely a means of ending parental distress. Zen McGrath’s acting lacks vigor with soulless character development, and in interacting with two Hollywood greats, it completely drowns out. Hugh Jackman and Laura Dern, who clearly try to make everything out of the often mechanical dialogues where anxious parents can only react with helplessness, (self) rebuke, and guilt. which, in the course of so many thoughtless and empty stares into nothingness, conspicuously loses weight, affecting incongruous melodramatics. This film does not show a single case of parents who took the initiative to get more information, for example. Instead, in addition to the easily organized treatment area, there is always an agonizing wait for the son to quickly return to his former happy form.
A subsequent attempt to explain why Peter had such difficulties in dealing with Nicholas is intertwined with a guest appearance by Anthony Hopkins as the ruthless father of the older generation. With the harsh and painful conversation taking place in this scene, Zeller is now changing the meaning of his movie’s title. A burgeoning generational conflict, which, though powerfully important, is still outrageously superficial. For although Peter at this moment seems to understand at least the beginning of what he must change in dealing with his son and his new family, Zeller does not draw any clear conclusions for his character’s development. Instead, the director uses a manipulative climax, like Lukas Dhont (“Girl”, “Close”), which has been expected in “The Son” for a long time, but only aims to evoke appropriate sympathy during the moment of shock. And in general, in view of the urgent and important discourse on this subject, this was not told.
There is no clear personality development, no significant contribution of those affected, no confrontation with a system that often leaves people with very few healing spaces and meager preventative measures. A movie that speaks utterly ignorantly about people with depression, but never with them. Ultimately, “The Son” is nothing more than manipulative and hugely disappointing. Since 26.1. In the cinema.
Photo: (c) Lyonine
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