This article features spoilers from COME TO DADDY. Proceed with caution.
I haven’t seen my birth father since I was about five years old.
What memories I have of him are scarce. The last time I spoke to him was when I was seventeen and Facebook was still but a twinkle in our collective social eye. I had foolishly accepted his friend request, thinking that perhaps I could finally get to know the man who spent years promising that he’d come home to me but never did. Instead, just a couple days later, he left a drunken rant on my wall viciously berating my mother. Needless to say, that was the last of my attempt to solidify any semblance of communication with him.
However, a lifetime’s worth of questions would remain unanswered and the grief that comes suffocatingly tight alongside childhood abandonment remained.
While watching Ant Timpson‘s COME TO DADDY, these memories of my own father came back to me as I all too easily put myself in Norval’s position. Receiving a letter out of nowhere supposedly from his birth father, he travels to a home set up in an isolated, remote location. I could imagine the different scenarios playing in his mind as he was walking through the forest, that perhaps his father finally wanted to reunite after so many years, that he wanted to pick up where they left off. That maybe, just maybe, all of those questions that he had asked himself repeatedly in those all too dark moments would be answered.
There’s an overwhelming feeling that snatches onto the lungs. It feels like drowning as the imagination goes wild at that moment when thinking about reacquainting with a long-lost relative. And, when Norval (Elijah Wood) meets Gordon, his would-be father (Stephen McHattie), it’s all just lingering under the surface. The realization that you’re staring face-to-face with the man you haven’t seen in 20+ years is just hard to dismiss. And it feels almost like a dream.
However, sometimes dreams are more like nightmares. What we spend countless eons fantasizing about is merely an illusion that gets shattered.
We see this as Norval’s image of his father slowly crumbles when Gordon antagonizes the young man. What should be moments of bonding between the would-be father/son duo are spent feeling the tension between the two steadily increase. And as Gordon continues to ramp up his behavior to make Norval uncomfortable, so too does the audience as they realize that this is arguably one of the worst reunions ever.
By the time Norval starts questioning Gordon about his purpose in inviting him there, all I could think of was the relatability of it all. Why had he invited him there if he didn’t want him? Why bother going through the charade and wasting his time? Why? Why? Why? In the case of Norval, the audience is reminded that this is a man who has spent decades without any scrap of affection or conversation from his father. He had been left behind and, at the heart and core of it all, he was still that little five-year-old boy inside wanting to know his father.
And then, just like that, he’s gone. Gordon dies and Norval is left to pick up the pieces. And it is heartbreaking.
Norval, for the most part, follows a typical grief pattern. He calls the police. He calls the coroner. He gets shitfaced and has a giant curse out fest directed at Gordon’s body, taking the advice of the coroner who told him to talk to the body to get out whatever it was he still had left to say. All of this comes together in a painful package reminding Norval that he may never get the answers he seeks. He won’t even get the luxury of hearing from friends and family who Gordon perhaps was.
But then there’s the chance he’s been waiting for.
A mysterious noise has been haunting him since Gordon’s death. After finding a hidden photo album that reveals who his father actually is, the sound starts up again. Like a beacon straight from a hungover man’s nightmares, Norval follows it to down to a mysterious cellar and comes face to face with an earless, bloodied-up mass of man that could only be his dad. Instead of the long-awaited reunion that he’s been waiting for, however, Norval is thrust into the immediate mess that his dad has created where he gets a crash course as to who his father might be.
Hellbent on rescuing his father, Norval has to trust this man’s word that he is who he says he is. I mean, after all, he’s just been bamboozled by another man who took him on a wild goose chase through a pretend father/son relationship. However, he takes the plunge. While he finds himself in the backseat of a psychopath’s car, getting intimate with some pointy things, and experiencing the wonder and horror of committing a murder, he starts to piece together little tidbits of what kind of man his father might be. And, while triumphant along his wayward journey to save his father and – indirectly – his mother, there’s something missing from the success of it all.
None of these events in COME TO DADDY really culminates in what Norval really wants. He never gets the answers as to why his father ever sent him that letter. And, as he and his father feel the energy drain from them after the night’s events and as they look out into the waves, there’s a silence that feels deafening at that moment. When Norval turns and asks his birth father why he had invited him there, the silence that follows is the real answer to the tale that has played itself out onscreen. That some things, Timpson seems to say, just can’t be answered and that sometimes we will never know why things are the way they are.
And, as the movie credits rolled, I couldn’t quite step out of Norval’s shoes just yet. Because I too have so many questions that I hope to perhaps ask my own father one day should the opportunity present itself. However, COME TO DADDY, with all of its quirky humor and what-the-fuckery spattered through it, helps to provide an answer for this wayward, constantly overthinking twenty-something-year-old.
The reality is that there will always be unanswered questions. We won’t always get the catharsis we seek out. And, while that leaves a weight that lingers behind in our chests, the knowledge of this truth helps to strengthen us. It helps to inspire us but, ultimately, it grants us permission to move on if that is what we desire.