‘The Son’ is powerful but not a happy tale

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“The Son” is a heart-wrenching dive into mental health and the struggles of parenting.

Writer-director Florian Zeller (“The Father”) takes a powerful look into mental health, divorce and parenting through a teen’s struggle with depression and the parents who are helpless to rescue him. 

One day, Peter (Hugh Jackman) is interrupted when his ex-wife, Kate (Laura Dern), shows up with news that their teenage son is deeply troubled. Nicholas (Zen McGrath) is despondent, withdrawn from life, skipping school and lying to his parents. He’s frustrated and can’t escape the pain he bears every day. Hoping to change his mental state, he moves in with his father. 

The story centers on Peter as he struggles to manage his dream job, his new wife, Beth (Vanessa Kirby), and their baby while adjusting to more time with Nicholas. The film explores the guilt and shame Peter carries amid not knowing how to save his drowning child, his burden of fault and his desperation to protect his son — all the things the parenting books don’t teach us.

In one of the film’s more revealing scenes, Peter visits his father (Anthony Hopkins) to check on his health. The two are estranged. His father is callous in their exchange and unapologetic for prioritizing work above his family.

Jackman gives one of his best on-screen performances as a father fighting to save his son. Dern is equally emotional as she teeters between reminiscing over happier times and the difficult decision to protect their son. 

A happy tale of rainbows and butterflies, it is not. Instead, “The Son” confronts the sins of a father’s past and grants the audience a few sunbeams between the moments of distress. The movie leaves us shaken alongside Peter in his journey, wondering how to give Nicholas what he didn’t get from his dad and how to heal the shattered pieces of his heart.

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