Before I start my review, I want to clear the air about a few things. First, I haven’t seen THE FATHER, director Florian Zeller’s last film, reviewed by my colleagues David and Aaron a year ago. THE SON is not a sequel, but both are based on Zeller’s plays and deal with family relationships. I also went into THE SON almost completely blind, not knowing who the director was until the credits rolled or a single thing it was about. I saw it starred Hugh Jackman and Laura Dern, and that was it. If you want to go in as I did, stop reading now, catch the movie, and come back. But I promise I will do my best not to spoil anything major, as doing so would betray our readers who come for reviews spoil-free.
THE SON is, at times, a very powerful tale of generational trauma and how it’s passed on from parent to child. Many of us promise ourselves we’ll be nothing like our parents, but one day start to realize how similar we’ve become, for better or worse. Teenager Nicholas is struggling with life, not just as many teens do, but on a deeper level. His parents (Dern and Jackman) are separated, with his father now living with a new partner and a new baby. While the film’s focal point is the relationship between a father and son, the lessons can be applied to any parent or child.
It’s clear to us, the viewers, that Nicholas needs more than his parents can give him in the way of attention and help. But his parents want to trust their 17yo son and give him a strong sense of autonomy that he’s not ready for. It’s obvious that he holds resentment toward his father for his parent’s divorce. At the same time, the mom’s unrealistic longing for reconciliation isn’t a healthy example for her son either. Nicholas is portrayed as the broken one in the family, and I have deep empathy for him because these issues come directly from his parents and, by default, his father’s new girlfriend. The adults in the film aren’t treating their children well enough, and it’s having a dire effect on them.
The story is meant to be a cautionary tale, but the adults are portrayed as so clueless and selfish that it’s hard to believe they’re parents at all. I’m sure there are parents so wrapped up in themselves that they’re neglecting their children too, but we’re not being asked to care about them like we are in this movie. There’s also a completely unnecessary tacked-on ending that sucks out any emotion left while trying to hit the audience over the head with a message we’ve already learned.
THE SON is currently playing in theaters.