“The Son”: Talking About Teen Suicide

“The Son: Talking About Teen Suicide


After The Father, for which Florian Zeller won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar and Anthony Hopkins won the best actor, the filmmaker and playwright returns with The Son. Maintenance… 

The subject is serious. Nicholas (Zen McGrath) is not well. The teenager is in the midst of depression and has not been to school for several months. Desperate, her mother Kate (Laura Dern) grants her request to go live with Peter (Hugh Jackman), her father, remarried to Beth (Vanessa Kirby) and both parents of a baby. But the teenager is no better…

The mental health of young people is at the heart of this feature film and Florian Zeller did not succumb to the temptation to give answers during the adaptation of his play, co-written with Christopher Hampton.

“I was very keen not to give a simplistic explanation, said the director during an interview with the QMI Agency. Why is a being, at a moment, in pain? The characters evoke the divorce of the parents, of course, there are undoubtedly traumatic and psychological reasons, but in reality, the suffering is a great mystery. We all know people who, on paper, would have everything to be happy and who, however, are in great difficulty. There is something that is not easy to understand or to sum up in a single dimension.”

The pain of living is difficult to explain. “There is a psychological dimension, of course, but also a biochemical and sometimes purely chemical dimension. We do not necessarily know why, sometimes we no longer want to live. And I just wanted to face this mystery, this black hole, and all that it destabilizes in a family ecosystem.

“The story is told above all from the point of view of the parents, who are loving parents, who are caring parents, who try, even if they don't always have the right keys, to open the doors and who are animated by the best intentions”, he specified.

Avoid the worst

Recalling that in France, a third of young people have problems mental health and that this alarming figure is undoubtedly the same in other countries including Quebec, Florian Zeller leaves no doubt about his convictions.

“When it comes to physical health, things are much simpler. When someone tells us that he has cancer, we tell him that we are there for him and we do not feel bad not knowing how to react, not knowing how it works. We do not wonder what we did to cause this disease to appear. When it comes to mental health, thoughts of guilt and responsibility cloud our view.”

According to the author and director, the tragedy can be avoided. “In this particular case, the tragedy could have been avoided. It could have been avoided if the right words had been used, if a conversation had been started. I believe this is what is urgent and necessary. I have always been struck by ignorance, by guilt, by shame regarding mental health issues.”

“I think it's fundamental that we feel comfortable having all these conversations, that we feel comfortable tackling head-on, without looking away, this suffering in an attempt to to help people who are in difficulty without being ashamed. In The Son, it is a father who, despite all his good intentions, cannot manage to admit that he is not equipped to handle this situation and who does not manage to ask for help, who cannot listen to the doctors because he feels that he, as a parent, must find the solutions.”

The son: shooting under the sign of emotion for Hugh Jackman

Hugh Jackman and Florian Zeller had already communicated years ago, for another project. But, after the Oscars won by The Father, Hugh Jackman read the play The Son. The two men told the rest during the press conference for the presentation of the feature film at the Venice Biennale.

“When I read The Son, I felt a fire in my stomach. It was a compulsion. It's a very frightening, very beautiful feeling, and one that you rarely experience as an actor to feel that the role is for you. What's scary is that we might not get the part,” said Hugh Jackman.

“I emailed Florian telling him that if he didn't have anyone in mind, I was interested. We spoke shortly after. Yes, I went hunting for the role and I'm glad I got it.”

The director received his email and was touched by the actor's humility and honesty. “I felt there was something special in his approach. We met via Zoom – it was two years ago and it was the only way to get in touch. It was to be a first meeting, I had no intention of making a decision”, remembered the filmmaker.

“And, after eight minutes, I offered him the part. I felt something very strong about why he was connected to this story. And I felt like he could explore all of those emotional territories honestly and humbly. It was the best decision of all, the journey was joyful, honest and intense.”

A cathartic shooting

In the middle of filming The Son, Hugh Jackman has lost his father to COVID-19. “I remember telling myself that I had to lean on everyone. In the past, when I had to shoot a particularly emotional scene, I retreated into my own world. And there, I told myself that I needed to heal, that I needed the team, the camera, the sound, the people, everyone. I needed to rely on them. And I felt the presence of my father,” he confided on the CBS network.

The son had a lasting impact on the father what is the actor. With children aged 22 and 17, Hugh Jackman changed his parenting approach.

“I learned that it was okay not to know, it was okay to show vulnerability . Now, as a parent, I'm going to tell my children that I don't know, that I'm not sure.”

“The film will start conversations, will make it possible to say that we can not knowing, that you can rely on others, that you can take time and that you have to realize that you need a village to raise a child.”

  • The Son hit theaters across the province on January 20.