Film Review – The Son (Second Take)
The Son (Second Take)
The Son (2022) is the newest film from director Florian Zeller, whose film The Father (2020) garnered two Oscar wins in 2020. Zeller and Christopher Hampton also returned to write the script based on Zeller’s play. The Son is not a sequel to The Father but continues with the theme of examining familial relationships and what happens when things start to fall apart.
The Son focuses on Peter (Hugh Jackman), a successful lawyer in NYC who has recently had a second son, Theo, with his second wife, Beth (Vanessa Kirby). Peter’s ex-wife, Kate (Laura Dern), shows up at his place because of concerns about their seventeen-year-old son, Nicholas (Zen McGrath). Nicholas has not been going to school for an extended period and is also acting strangely toward Kate. It boils down to Kate wanting Peter to have a serious talk with his son, and it seems like Peter is not a present father for his first son. During this talk, Nicholas is aloof about his issues and any causes but makes an explicit request to move in with his father and get to know his little brother. Peter (and Beth) welcome Nicholas into a home that is more than a little stressed due to a new baby.
Peter is going on quite a journey himself with having to be a father more than he has in the past. Peter is an absent father; he’s the guy who always worked and wasn’t around much, even when he was still with Kate. Having to grow up and deal with Nicholas’ issues complicates his life even more than a new baby. Just having him move in and having stern talks does not cure Nicholas, although, in the temporary sense, they did superficially. There are notes of Peter trying not to be his father (Anthony Hopkins), who was also largely absent and uncaring. Still, there is a recognition of the similarities even though Peter and his father are not the same.
There are obvious issues with Nicholas, and the film is full of red flags. The parents listen but don’t quite comprehend the seriousness of what Nicholas is conveying to them. He uses the phrase, “I’m in pain” multiple times, but the pain is not a physical one, but mental anguish. He calls out and blames his parents’ divorce as the instigator of his downhill spiral; however, there is a lack of understanding of what his parents went through since it is seen through a child’s eyes. The simplistic emotions he associates with the divorce go from happy and loved to angry and sad. There is also that same lack of understanding from the parents regarding what is happening with their son. They try to operate as normally as possible, thinking the situation is being worked out, however slowly, but the seriousness of Nicholas’ mental health doesn’t set in until things become beyond difficult.
There is the looming fear of what I saw as inevitable in The Son. It happened every time Nicholas left the room and closed a door. Not many films can have this dread baked into almost every scene. There is, however, an inner rooting for everything to work out; Nicholas receives treatment, and Peter becomes a better father. I cannot fathom what it takes to parent someone with severe mental health issues, but the journey for Peter is one of self-recognition in his son and the contemplation of what he can do to be a better father, which is not always giving talks and being friends with your kid. Tough decisions have to be made, even though, to Peter, they seem wildly inappropriate and scary; after all, he has the resources and background to solve this “problem.” The Son is a devastating look at a father-son relationship that did not survive divorce intact and the incapability to come to terms and deal appropriately with an important and threatening situation.