It is with bewilderment that Nicholas’mother, Katie, learns that her 17-year-old son has not attended classes for a month. She lives with her son, has not seen anything coming and makes appeals to the father from whom she has been separated for a couple of years.
The opening scene of The Son shows us his mother, played by Laura Dern, on the landing of her ex-husband’s apartment, distraught by the mystery that her son has become. In this first instance, we do not find any guilt-ridden intent in this lost mother. On the contrary, there is an indication of the tone of the film as a whole: to voice best what goes through each of them. What follows is that the son moves in with his father in the hope of a fresh start. Peter has remarried, and his new partner has just given him a second son. For some time, Nicholas seems to pull the wool over his father’s eyes, giving in to his demands, and saying that he will take up his classes, reconnect with his friends, and so on. However, the real that assaults him does not leave him alone. “I don’t know what is happening to me”, he yells at his father.
Therefore, despite everyone’s good intentions, something always sounds odd to Nicholas.
Is it his parents’ divorce? Would Nicholas like to see them reunited? Is it the nostalgy of the supposedly happy time of childhood where everything seems always in harmony?
Be that as it may, the Other is targeted, particularly in the father figure, and in two respects. In one scene, which Florian Zeller has added to the initial theatre play, Anthony Hopkins, who stands firm as a “cruel” father, who is constantly absorbed in his work, explains to his son, Peter, that he has no remorse concerning his family life. He invites his son to put a term to his own childhood. Does Peter, who identifies with his own father, play the same part with his son?
“The question of the father, is crucial in Florian Zeller’s mental universe” – says Samuel Blumenfeld. “If one wants to dig deeper, quoting portraits published in newspapers where a German father is mentioned […] he sweeps the question away “Nothing of the kind”. And he continues: “If you want to speak about the father, let us speak about the Son.”” Precisely, the path that the filmmaker of The Son explored is soon revealed to be nothing but a paravent that is smashed to pieces when Nicholas – in a moment of crisis – manages to speak about the difficulty of dealing with life itself. One could not find a more accurate expression of the Other who appears as weak support when he has to face the enigma of the “excess of liveliness” that he is invaded by.
Various moments of his life are tinged with profound perplexity. While there is no doubt that his father as well as his mother are sensitive to this, there remains however a dimension that escapes meaning and that obstructs. Where then do we have to situate the paternal function? Is it in the transgression of this abyss – however tiny it may be – that separates the opacity that is logged at the heart of his being and his taking in consideration of the Other?
As always when we are dealing with an oeuvre of art, the absence of explanation is not lacking because the author refrains from giving it to us.
On the contrary, is F. Zeller’s art not rather tracing a trajectory that wraps tightly around a hole? A hole as such unsayable, where Nicholas has embedded his existence?
Guided by this blind spot, with The Son, F. Zeller shoots straight.
 Zeller F., The Son, film, France, USA, UK, Film4 Productions, 2022. Adaptation of the theatre play The Son by the same playwright.
 Adjective used by Florian Zeller at the preview in Lille on the 25th February 2023 in the UGC cinema in Lille.
 Blumenfeld S., “après le père, le fils: Florian Zeller, un Français à Hollywood” (“After the father, the son: Florian Zeller, a Frenchman in Hollywood”, own translation), Le Monde, 26 February 2023.
Translation: Eva Reinhofer
Proofreading: Sébastien Dauguet
Picture: © Emmanuel Kervyn