Florian Zeller’s dramatic feature film, The Son, stars Hugh Jackman as Peter who lives a highly successful professional life in New York, with ambitions to work in a political campaign soon. Married to Beth (Vanessa Kirby), they have an infant son named Theo and they seem to have all that is needed in this world. That is, until his first wife, Kate (Laura Dern) arrives unannounced with news about their 17-year-old son Nicholas (Zen McGrath). The reality of his past life comes to hit him in the face while he is in the blissful state with his young family. Yes, this teen is skipping school and yearns to be with his father who has gone and built another life without him. If this sounds like something you have seen before, well it is and many of the scenes however well done seem so predictable. It is not what I was expecting of this film, especially with this cast. They (Jackman and Dern) make the most of their dialogue that the audience member can see coming a mile away. Kirby and McGrath are also very impressive in their roles and also should be commended for their performance. The script though is not as meaty as anticipated.     

Sir Anthony Hopkins’ performance in Zeller’s The Father earned him an Oscar. He returns to The Son for an ever so brief scene with Peter (Jackman) to understand the impact on him now, as a father and son. The one scene of Hopkins’ performance is so powerful and at the same time, painful to view of how this estranged father treats his now adult son.

Is it any wonder that after having been estranged from a father, the same can be done by the son and passed on down the generations to his offspring? Obviously, Peter didn’t think of this when he left Kate and Nicholas for his new life. It is not explicitly said in the film but looks like Peter hasn’t been checking on his first son, thus leading to his teenage offspring struggling with mental illness. And doesn’t know why.

Nicholas moves in with Peter and new family, with hopes to regain life as it was, and is enrolled in a new school. Soon, Nicholas is up to his same tricks as he did with his mother, faking his way through life with Peter. He has wishful thinking that things are improving for Nicholas, but they are not.

Peter and Kate can’t seem to see how severe the call for help from Nicholas is – the level of help he needs aside from “talking” to a therapist. Nicholas really isn’t talking. In fact he is expressing himself through cutting as a form of release from what he is going through. He won’t talk. Peter and Kate, nor Beth, ever show one effort to Google what cutting oneself means and is a sign of.  How unreal.

Unfortunately, there are some very good scenes by the actors as they portray their paternal guilt for the impact on their son. Peter does display some scenes of a temper that perhaps Nicholas is not aware of and that interaction should have been a wakeup call for what is to come with his son. Both Peter and Kate are also blind to how clever and manipulative Nicholas has become as his illness progresses.

Films about people with mental illness are not an easy watch, but the performances are great and help with moving past the predictability of the script that is not as intriguing as was expected.

Now playing in theaters as of January 20th 2023.

Source: Sony Pictures Classics

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