Father's Day Top 5 Dads in Independent Films



Father’s Day is fast approaching, offering the perfect time to celebrate some of the best cinematic depictions of father figures in independent filmmaking. Unlike mainstream media, independent filmmakers tend to focus on the flaws that make these characters unique, memorable and relate-able. Some of these films can be seen as moving tributes while others appear more like indictments. Whatever the case, they are sure to stir up a reaction.

Father. There are few words that bring out so many conflicting emotions, either because of your own father or for the weight you attach to that word in relationship to your own family. This Father’s Day, whether you love, dislike or feel indifferent to your father, it is likely that you will be prompted to think about him if only because of constant reminders to shop, shop, shop for him! Here at Independent Ethos we suggest you take some time to relax and reminisce with some great films featuring memorable fathers that deserve to be re-watched or should be considered must-sees if you haven’t caught them yet.

1. The Royal Tenenbaums

Not only is this one of my favorite films in general, but it also features one of the best realized father figures in Wes Anderson‘s oeuvre, which tends to explore the complexity of familial ties. Gene Hackman plays Royal Tenenbaum (yes, that’s the name of the patriarch!), a former lawyer who was disbarred by one of his own sons in one of the funniest montages of the film (there are several). Royal is the yang to the family’s more polished, sensitive, over-achieving group of geniuses. He curses, says overly crude things in a direct way, plays favorites and disappoints every member of the family at some point. He redeems himself only through death and reveals a tender loving father underneath that figure everyone had loved to hate.

Opening scene:

2. The Squid and the Whale

If you ever wondered what it’s like growing up with a narcissistic father, this film will get you close to that experience. The Squid and the Whale presents a dysfunctional family, struggling to overcome what seems to be a traumatic divorce. Jeff Daniels’ portrayal of Bernard Berkman is masterful. Bernard finds competition everywhere. He’s bitter to see his ex-wife get recognition on her writing abilities (Bernard is a writer as well). He challenges his ex-wife’s tennis-trainer boyfriend to a match of tennis. And sabotages his older teenage son’s dating life. Lest you think, now this is an awful father, director Noah Baumbach also does an amazing job showing a troubled individual who struggles to re-define himself as a middle-aged man. The writing alone in this film is superb, full of sharp witticism, sarcasm and heartfelt depth. Baumbach’s writing has excelled at depicting the self-involved male, from Mr. Jealousy and Greenberg, but to this writer, Bernard Berkman takes the cake. The Squid and the Whale is filled with quotable moments, such as a scene featuring Bernard talking to his younger son about his ex-wife’s new love interest.

Bernard: Ivan is fine, but he’s not a serious guy. He’s a philistine.
Frank: What’s a philistine?
Bernard: It’s a guy who doesn’t care about books and interesting films and things. Your mother’s brother Ned is also a philistine.
Frank: Then I’m a philistine.
Bernard: No, you’re interested in books and things.
Frank: [pause] No, I’m a philistine.


3. Raising Arizona

Fatherhood does not necessarily come with procreation. In Raising Arizona, recidivist convict H.I. “Hi” McDunnough (Nicholas Cage) meets police officer Edwina “Ed” McDunnough (Holly Hunter), and in classic Coen fashion, they fall in love. They dream about starting a family only to find out that Ed is barren. Alas, adoption is also out of the question since Ed has a long criminal history. Soon after, though, they hear about a couple having quintuplets and they decide why not take one of those babies. They name the baby Nathan Junior. The adventure of having a family— even if construed illegally— changes Hi to reveal a caring guy. Full disclosure: I am not a huge Nicholas Cage fan, but in Raising Arizona he delivers a  performance of great comedic timing and a soft touch. A Father’s Day feel-good movie!


4. Kolya

Prepare to have your heart thoroughly melted, tugged and pulled. Kolya is the story of a Czech life-loving bachelor who was once a concert cellist. Living under Soviet rule, Louka (Zdenek Sverák) was fired from the philharmonic after being blacklisted by the communist party and now works at a crematorium playing music. In order to make some extra cash he marries a Russian woman who then uses her Czech nationality to migrate to West Germany. In the meantime, she leaves behind her 5-year old son, Kolya (Andrey Khalimon), who speaks only Russian. While communication between Louka and Kolya is rough at the beginning, a strong bond begins to form. Louka’s transition from womanizer to a father figure is beautifully carried by actor/screenwriter Sverák. The on-screen chemistry between the two truly makes you believe that this relationship, which transcends language, will define both men. Just like Raising Arizona, Kolya shows that fatherhood transcends biological constraints.

Kolya is now a classic. It received the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1997. The critically acclaimed movie is a must and could be inspiration for fathers-to-be!

5. Big Fish

This is perhaps the most personal of all these entries. Big Fish, I must confess, reminds me of my own journey in discovering my father. Directed by Tim Burton, Big Fish tells the story of Ed Bloom (Ewan McGregor/Albert Finney), who tries to get a grasp of his dying father’s life through the stories he used to tell. He finds that truth lies somewhere between myth and reality. Burton captures the vivid imagination of a child who hears stories from his father through fantastic visuals. The dream-like quest of finding the truth only becomes clear and vivid as Ed Bloom senior passes away. The film is a reminder that life should be celebrated, and what better time to do so than during Father’s Day!

Ana Morgenstern

(Copyright 2014 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)


  1. I never need an excuse to watch The Royal Tenenbaums or Raising Arizona but for some reason I never thought about the actual role of the father in these movies. Great post 🙂


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