The Son (2022) Movie Review – A harrowing but thought-provoking tale

A harrowing but thought-provoking tale

The Son is a companion piece to director Florian Zeller’s last movie, The Father, and while it isn’t a direct sequel or prequel, the movie is thematically similar with its focus on troubled family dynamics and the struggles a person can have with their mental health.

Zen McGrath stars as “the son” of the title, a 17-year-old named Nicholas, who is diagnosed with acute depression by his doctor. The symptoms of his illness may be familiar to anybody who has also suffered from this illness. He struggles with overwhelming feelings of sadness and the notion that he doesn’t feel a part of the world, and he inflicts physical harm to himself, not to cause further pain but to get relief from the mental anguish that he is suffering.

Hugh Jackman and Laura Dern star as Peter and Kate, Nicholas’s separated parents. They are slow to recognize the seriousness of their son’s mental health condition and when they do start to wake up to the fact that he is mentally unwell, they struggle to know how best to support him. Peter thinks the answer is to spend more time with his son but while this could be considered the “right” thing to do, Nicholas needs more than the love and support that his father can give him.

It takes a long time for Peter and Kate to realize Nicholas needs help from a mental health professional. This has consequences that we won’t go into here but if you do have an understanding of depression, you may already have an idea of how this story plays out. If you aren’t clued into the severity of this illness, you may be less sure, but I guarantee that you’ll have a much better understanding of what people like Nicholas (and his parents) go through after seeing this film.

The Son isn’t an easy watch and nor should it be. There are scenes in the film that are bound to make you feel sad and uncomfortable, especially during moments when the consequences of Nicholas’s mental health condition and his parent’s inaction become clear, and you will likely feel a sense of dread as the film draws near to its conclusion.

If you do have depression, you might relate to Nicholas’s plight and the failure of his parents to fully understand the pain he is experiencing. As somebody who does struggle with depression, I certainly did, and this made me appreciate Zeller’s writing, which for the most part conveys the severity of depression and how some people fail to understand the impact this form of mental illness can take on those who suffer from it.

But while the film is sometimes incisive, it occasionally lacks depth. Characters come across as stereotypes rather than real people and as befits the fact that this was a stage play before it was adapted to film, it is often melodramatic and dialogue-heavy. Sometimes less is more, and this should have been the case in The Son, which is keen to explain how Nicholas is feeling through the speeches he gives instead of giving us the opportunity to see how depression affects his life through scenes of him simply existing in the world that he doesn’t feel a part of.

Zellner’s last film, The Father, was made more powerful because of the way in which it was narratively constructed. Instead of telling us that Anthony Hopkins’ character had dementia, it let us see the world through his eyes, with the result being a puzzle box of a movie where we, like ‘the father,’ were thrown off balance because we were never quite sure what was real and what wasn’t. If Zellner had represented depression in a similar way, by bringing us closer into Nicholas’s world instead of keeping us at a distance, the film could have had a bigger impact.

Admittedly, The Son would have been a bleaker film if we were forced to experience the fragility of Nicholas’s mental health first-hand. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as those who don’t understand depression would have gained greater insight into the illness. Audiences gained a better insight into dementia as a consequence of The Father’s inventive storytelling so it’s a pity that this couldn’t have been the case here.

Despite this misgiving, The Son doesn’t shy away from the reality of depression, despite the conventional nature of the plotting. There is much we can learn from the film so it can certainly be recommended. It offers a cautionary message for those who are dismissive of those with depression and who don’t consider it a serious illness, and it delivers an emotionally impactful ending that should alter your perspective of this condition.

Kudos must go to the actors who all give brilliant performances, especially Jackman who has one heart-wrenching scene near the conclusion that may well make you cry. These tears are earned – the film isn’t unnecessarily sentimental – so you shouldn’t feel as if your emotions have been manipulated. Whether or not you relate to the characters these actors play will depend on your life experiences but at the very least, you will be better able to empathize with those in the real world that share their agonies.

The film would have been better if it was a little less theatrical and more inventive in its telling but it’s still worth a watch. I wish it had been more optimistic – there is hope for depression sufferers, which isn’t always conveyed here – but I’m glad it didn’t gloss over the effects of depression to make it more palatable for the audience. If you can prepare yourself for a sometimes harrowing experience, you should gain a lot from this film.


Read More: The Son Ending Explained

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  • Verdict - 7/10

2 thoughts on “The Son (2022) Movie Review – A harrowing but thought-provoking tale”

  1. Well done…I was a bit frustrated that the dad and mom didn’t go to group counseling with him and I’d course separately. Divorce is a family affair and especially hard in kids as they don’t understand the concept of falling out of love as adults do so easily! This could have changed the trauma of depression over time with a better outcome.

  2. A truly honest film of young adulthood depression. I lived it with a brother. The young actor was so spot on with everything, from the way he would walk across the street to trying not to cry. It’s a very real illness and max hit it on the head. I don’t know how he was able to bring such pathos as such a young person.

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