Two Mind-Bending Treats. No Drugs Involved

Anthony Hopkins in “The Father” and Vincent Van Gogh Self Portrait

Hallways expanding and contracting. Time looping back on itself, forward then back, the forward again. Faces changing, personalities slipping in the blink of an eye. Cicadas chirping as they cover a screen.

Barb and I weren’t chewing on gummies or ingesting magic mushrooms this weekend when our minds were warped out of shape, not once but twice. First, Friday evening we sat home and watched Anthony Hopkins Academy Award Winning performance in “The Father.” Then on Sunday morning we drove down the Tri-State Tollway and Kennedy Expressway to the Sandburg Village area where we experienced the twisty “Immersive Van Gogh” exhibit at the Germania Club/Lighthouse ArtSpace Chicago. Between the two, our heads will never be wired quite the same way.

In “The Father” Mr. Hopkins plays Anthony, an engineer, who along with his daughter (Olivia Colman) is dealing with (or not dealing with) his increasing dementia. It is the more thought-provoking of the two experiences.

Do you think Mr. Hopkins playing a similar role in the 2005 movie “Proof” where his mental illness is the source of friction between his renowned professor character and his equally brilliant daughter (Gwyneth Paltrow)?

Think again. In “The Father,” by scene two, everything you thought you knew or expected has changed. Is Olivia Coleman the daughter? Who are these other people? Why does the furniture keeping changing in the hallway? Will someone be going to Paris? And for what reason do some scenes keep repeating, the same, but not the same.

Slowly we realize our point of view is that of angry, frightened, and demented Anthony. And we are left to ask ourselves–is this what it feels like to suffer from dementia. I fear that it is.

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We know Vincent Van Gogh suffered from an unclassifiable mental condition. But that is not what made the immersive Van Gogh exhibit so twisty. The filmmakers have created a 45-minute video, screened on the walls of 3 large exhibit halls. We sit on the floor, our heads swiveling to catch the entire experience.

In the first few minutes, black cicadas cover the screens. Then selected elements from Van Gogh’s paintings–here a face, there a sunflower, a chugging train–appear, vibrate, explode. Music, mostly classical, pours from surround sound speakers. The artist’s self-portraits stare at us. This is true immersion.

As our brains reach full pickling, the finale fills the screen — swirls from “A Starry Night” splashing like fireworks against the sky. The music crescendos, and then dazed, the crowd staggers for the exits. It is only as we all pour into the inevitable gift shop that normalcy returns.

Hopkins and Van Gogh gave us mind-blowing weekend–no hallucinogenics needed.


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