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THE SON (2022, USA) – 7.5/10


French writer and playwright Florian Zeller also presented himself as an exceptional filmmaker with the psychological drama “Father” based on his own theater play of the same name. As the plays “Father” were followed by the dramas “Majka” and “Sin”, it was the turn of their screen adaptation, again in Zeller’s arrangement and involvement, and the film he presented in Venice is equally impressive as its predecessor. And while in the disorienting “Father” in which Anthony Hopkins excelled, he dealt with Alzheimer’s and senile dementia in an unprecedented way, now he is once again dealing with another vicious disease.

This time it is acute depression, and neither mother Kate (Laura Dern) nor father Peter (Hugh Jackman) really understand what is happening to their son Nicholas (Zen McGrath). Nicholas has stopped going to school, is not interested in anything and feels terrible ever since his parents divorced and his father left his mom for the younger Beth (Vanessa Kirby) with whom he started a new family. They now have a new son, and the young man, who is apparently prone to self-harm, suddenly no longer wants to live with his mother, but decides to move Nicholas in with his father.

And while Kate warns her ex-husband that something strange is going on with their 17-year-old son, the successful businessman, who has apparently been chasing a career his whole life, assumes it’s nothing serious. He’s a teenager, that’s the age when kids can be weird, comforts Peter who, unfortunately, will realize very soon that the situation is very serious, but he just doesn’t know how to stand up. We will see partly why because he is also a son and in a striking scene in which the extraordinary Hopkins reappears as a father, we will understand how he dealt with his problems when he was Nicholas’ age and almost turned into him.

Once again, Zeller made a film with strong acting performances, especially Jackman, and it is a complex, poignant and disturbing psychological drama about mental illnesses that are still a taboo subject. And not only about mental illnesses like depression, but also about how people still don’t know how to behave when they realize that their child is mentally ill. The feeling of shame, guilt and even complete disinterest in the father to understand what is happening with his son is brilliantly shown here, but can Peter be blamed for that, who learned that a man must be firm, not talk about what is bothering him, but push forward. If he could make his way through life like that and succeed, what is happening to his son that he can’t grit his teeth, push all the suffering, pain and unhappiness deep inside him and move on?

It is quite obvious that Zeller has explored this topic in depth and “The Son” is a film that deeply disturbs and shocks, almost as well as Lynne Ramsay’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin”. Although the son is in the center of attention, the central character is actually Peter, a man who assumed that now he was finally starting from scratch, from the beginning, with a new family. That’s how he initially sees Nicholas as a kind of weight, as something that only brings him problems, brings tension in the relationship with his new family. The film is full of darkness because when something like that happens, one has to start asking oneself various questions.

From the classic question of why me and why my son is not “normal” like the rest of his peers to questioning what he did wrong and where I made a mistake and whether the situation would have developed differently if he had made other decisions in life. It is an exceptionally layered and complex drama because Peter welcomes Nicholas to him both because it is in itself something good and normal, but also out of some need to prove to himself, and especially to his father, that he is different from him. That he can be a successful businessman and a caring and attentive father at the same time, perhaps naively believing that everything can be corrected and changed overnight and that suddenly everything will be fine.

Once again, Zeller managed to build multi-layered and human characters. This applies not only to Peter, but also to Kate, who is clear that it is over between her and her ex-husband, but she cannot get over it and forget it, so subconsciously she seems to be glad that Nicholas could now destroy his new relationship. Beth is obviously not thrilled that Nicholas is coming to them, but she actually seems to be the only one who understands his situation and the state he is in, and it is clear to her that the situation is much more dangerous than what Kate and Peter think. And Nicholas is clearly an angry, frustrated, hurt young man who seems to want revenge on his father for destroying their family, who seems to want to convince himself that everything will be fine if his family is together again, but it is clear to us that about a boy with serious mental problems that no one wants to deal with properly.