Mike Mills poignant portrait of a father and son relationship inspired us to look back at how films from Chaplin to Beginners have handled this paternal subject.
In the Name of the Father (1994)
One of the most painful and moving depictions of the relationship between a father and son can be found in Jim Sheridan's In the Name of the Father, the harrowing true story of Gerry and Giuseppe Conlon. A member of the Guildford Four, petty thief Gerry Conlon was sent to prison in 1975 for his supposed involvement in the Irish Republican Army's bombing of a pub in the English town of Guildford. His father, Giuseppe, followed him to England to help get him acquitted, but was arrested shortly after and sent to jail on a trumped up charge of possessing explosives. In Sheridan's film, Pete Postlethwaite and Daniel Day-Lewis play Giuseppe and Gerry, respectively, a father and son both convicted of crimes they did not commit. The ingenious conceit of In the Name of the Father is that, though this is not historically accurate, it places the two men in the same prison cell, which becomes the stage on which the evolution of their relationship plays out. In his video essay on the movie, the New York Times' A.O. Scott says, “At the start of the film they're in a state of almost constant conflict: Giuseppe is a modest, conservative, lower middle class family man––he's everything Gerry is rebelling against. Gerry sees Giuseppe as boring and predictable but, as their ordeal goes on, he comes to appreciate his father's steadfastness. And this change in Gerry's understanding of his father changes him.” Day-Lewis, famous for his Method approach to acting, spoke with an Irish accent throughout the shoot, spent his nights in a jail cell, and asked the crew to verbally abuse and throw water over him. While those aspects were no doubt traumatic for him, the film also allowed Day-Lewis to key into (and possibly resolve) some of the issues in his relationship with his own father, the late poet and author Cecil Day-Lewis. Just a few years before making In the Name of the Father, Day-Lewis was playing the lead role in Hamlet, and during one performance, he collapsed and then rushed from the stage, crying uncontrollably. The incident took place during the scene where Hamlet sees his father's ghost, and Day-Lewis later revealed that he had seen the ghost of his own father on stage that night. Day-Lewis has never acted in the theatre since.