Who’s Your Father? by David Bax
Until I saw Anand Tucker’s new film, When Did You Last See Your Father?, it had been quite a while since a movie made me cry. Certainly, I did not experience the composure destroying sobs brought on by Hilary and Jackie, still the high water mark in Tucker’s career, but there was a free flow of tears by the end of this story of a man examining his history with his father in the last few weeks before the old man kicks the bucket.
The particular scene that elicited this reaction from me comes near the end of the film (as all great tearjerker scenes must). Shortly after the father’s body has been collected by the undertaker, the son, Blake, played by Colin Firth, is standing in the drive outside the house where he grew up. In fact, he is standing in the exact place where, years before, he said goodbye to his dad before embarking on college and adulthood.
The film does not offer and pay explanations of what takes place with the son at this moment. If he forgives his father, understands him or makes peace with him is up to the viewer to interpret. But it is clear that he has arrived at some sort of decision and the relief of it causes him to break down for the first time. It is a grandly cinematic and well-earned moment in a film that has been subdued and mannered till that point.
The question posed by the film’s title is analyzed and deciphered in the narration. When, in the weeks of decline leading to death, did our protagonist last truly see his father for who he was? Again, the film refused to make things simple and answer the question for us, but I think the answer is there. Blake’s tear-inducing revelation in the driveway is the not the last, but the first time he has seen his father for who he really was. One cannot know a book or a film when he is only halfway through it. So how can we presume to know another person whose story is not yet at its end? It is only when the life can be taken in and seen as a whole that it can even begin to be understood.
It has been almost five years since my father died and I feel like I know him better every day. I can examine the things he did and the things he said to me unencumbered by my immediate involvement in them. As it turns out, the completed self-portrait he left behind is a pretty flattering one.