The Son is Florian Zeller’s companion piece to The Father but fails to really understand the severity of teen depression.
The Son, written and directed by Florian Zeller, relies not just on its brilliant cast of Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Vanessa Kirby, and Zen McGrath, but also on Zeller’s success of The Father to bring in audiences for his companion piece.
The Son was screened as part of the London Film Festival 2022. All words of this review were written entirely by the writers at Cinamore.
Adapted by Zeller’s play ‘Le Fils’ much like how The Father originated, The Son unfortunately is a disappointingly bland demonstration of a father-son relationship across three generations, where each is either traumatised or inflicting trauma.
Nicholas (McGrath) is constantly weighed down with the nihilism of life, expressing his depression through ambiguous angst reminding me a great deal of The Art of Getting By, though unlike Freddie Highmore’s George, who finds solace through Leonard Cohen and art, Nicolas spends The Son brooding or making venomous remarks at the expense of those around him.
Laura Dern and Hugh Jackman offer an endearing performance as Nicholas’ divorced parents who split after Peter (Jackman) had an affair with Beth (Kirby) leaving Dern’s Kate bitter and resentful though avoids channelling this through Nicholas’ upbringing.
Peter is also using this opportunity to process his own trauma from his father played by Sir Anthony Hopkins returning to perform under Zeller’s direction, and linking both The Father and The Son together as a companion piece.
No doubt when Zeller attempts to conclude the trilogy Hopkins will reprise his role once more for The Holy Spirit.
As evidenced by the large synopsis, it is without question how The Son began as a stage show finding Zeller’s success. The stage show was offering a digestible narrative over its runtime, however, when adapted for the screen, fails to accurately capture the emotive essence of the situation.
Subsequently, every scene is a simple palette of blues and whites, with Laura Dern’s caring maternity offering the only inclusion of warms to counteract Jackman’s soulless bachelor pad as if replicating Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea.
Similarly, the clinical cinematography and scenes that were cut shorter than necessary all added to a film that felt like it was playing it safe, even when tackling the heavy subject matter of self-harm and suicide.
For example, there is a moment in the first act when Nicholas expresses his unhappiness and begs to move in with his father and we see Laura Dern say goodbye at the front door of the apartment after checking Nicholas has all he needs, before cutting away back to Jackman’s bland apartment moments after.
In reality, this would have been an opportunity for Zeller to linger on Dern for a beat. The camera stays motionless observing Dern as the realisation sinks of watching her child hurt and knowing that she is being pushed away.
Dern waits until her son is out of earshot, and we see her cry. The painful tears of a mother realising she may be losing her boy and there is little she can do to stop it. The pain of her hurt is what we linger on before cutting away to reinforce how Nicholas’ pain is impacting those around him and how they are subsequently suffering with him.
Instead, Zeller cuts back to Jackman, to establish further the relationship he has with Kirby, who between them have a newborn, adding to Nicholas’ contentions and burdens which when compiled with Jackman’s high-pressure job working for an ambiguous politician, makes it a tense living environment where silencing emotions triumphs.
Though with a glaringly obvious Chekhov’s gun situation established, it is disappointing that I expected The Son to follow the success of The Father using creative filmmaking to tell a poignant story.
Despite this, I am of no doubt that as we begin to look towards awards season, I would not be the least bit surprised if The Son is considered for Best Adapted Screenplay given Zeller’s adaptation of his own work onto the screen.
If The Son were to be considered for its adaptation, I would be disappointed that as representations of teenage mental health are concerned, this isn’t the strongest or most accurate version it could be, and for some, could be considered more dangerous.
It is a shame though, as I would have much preferred a cinematic adaptation of the play The Narcissist by Christopher Shinn that takes themes of politics, self-harm, and modern communication, and presents it in a succinct package and could easily have been replicated with the same cast and done to a higher standard under Zeller’s eye.
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