The Son

Peter W Sheehan 10 February 2023

This British-American drama tells the story of a father’s attempt to reunite with his son after a marital break-up.

THE SON. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Vanessa Kirby, Zen McGrath and Anthony Hopkins. Directed by Florian Zeller. Rated M (Suicide and self-harm references and coarse language). 123 min.

The film is directed from a screenplay written by Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton, and is based on a 2018 stage play of the same name by Zeller. At the 80th Golden Globe Awards in 2022, Hugh Jackman was nominated for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama for his performance. The movie is directed to be a follow-up to Zeller’s 2020 Oscar-winning film, The Father, starring Hopkins, who plays Peter’s father in this movie. The movie is not to be confused with a thriller film from Argentina about the traumas associated with paternity. This is the most recent movie in Zeller’s series of family dramas that began with Isabelle Huppert’s portrayal, in Zeller’s play, The Mother (2019), and then The Father. Here, Jackman takes a leading role as father of Nicholas, his first-born ‘Son’.

In this movie, Kate (Dern), the ex-wife of Peter Miller (Jackman), a middle-aged New York legal attorney, shows up unexpectedly to express her emotional concern about the behaviour of their troubled son, Nicholas (McGrath). Peter and Kate have been divorced for some years, and Peter is trying to balance life with the needs of his current wife, Beth (Kirby), and his new-born infant son, and the demands of a busy, high-powered professional career.

Kate who is at a loss to know what to do regards Nicholas’ behaviour comes to Peter for advice and help. Hopkins appears late in the film in the role of Peter’s father, Anthony, which represents the dramatic link between this movie and Zeller’s The Father. Anthony and Peter severely criticise each other in their only encounter as Father and Son.

The plot is complex. The film depicts the struggle of a family which wants to reunite, after falling apart. Nicholas is a 17-year-old, deeply troubled teenager. He no longer feels he can stay with his mother; he has been missing from school for months; and he is angrily roaming the streets of New York. Peter tries to correct the wrongs that he knows he has committed in the past in the fractured relationship he formed with his son during his marriage to Kate. He mistakenly thinks he needs to care for Nicholas in the ways he wanted his own father to care for him when he himself was a teenager.

Peter reaches out to correct his past mistakes, but fails to grasp how to cope with Nicholas’ needs now, and the more he tries, the more Beth feels she and her infant son are being ignored. Unsure of what he should do, Peter invites Nicholas to move in with him, but later realises that Nicholas is deeply depressed. The family drama veers at times towards melodrama, but Jackman strongly portrays Nicholas’ troubled, workaholic father. The movie forcibly portrays the physical and psychological difficulties of parenting. Peter’s helplessness is obvious, as he desperately reaches out to a son he knows he has psychologically lost. Jackman powerfully communicates a parent’s mental anguish, and it is the best acting performance of his career.

The movie at times makes for uncomfortable viewing. Well scripted, it is about teenage depression and a father’s failure to do what needs to be done about it. Peter’s resentment and guilt linger, and Nicholas’ instability continues.

The film is about mental health problems in both father and son, and it sends a clear message that clinical depression is a significant mental health problem that can be difficult to address. This is a film where one learns how ‘not’ to be a good father when everything is going wrong, and the film’s harrowing conclusion is genuinely unsettling. The film should spark excellent discussion of mental health issues in its wide sweep across parenting and teenage torment.

Transmission Films

Released 9 February 2023



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