The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Motifs in Cinema 2012: Aging

with 31 comments

age stairAccording to an article my morning paper you can forget about making a career if you’re over 33. You’re already considered “old” and less attractive for potential employers. To be honest I didn’t finish reading it. A few paragraphs were more than enough to cope with for someone who recently turned 45.

The older I get the more aware do I become of the different sides of aging.age stair old

Sometimes it’s just sad, frustrating and ugly. Like when I’m at the hairdresser and for once have to look straight into the mirror rather than just rushing past it and have to confront the fact that the woman with the grey hair I’m looking at isn’t someone else’s mother or grandmother. It’s actually me. My body is letting me down, day by day, making it very clear to me that this idea that I’m going to die one day is more than just a vague hypothesis. It’s a fact.

Then there are other days when I’m perfectly happy to be where I am: in the middle of life, with the most stressful years with small children at home behind me, and still many years ahead of me which I can spend the way I want. Life isn’t finished when you’re middle-aged. It has barely started.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the old image of life in the form of a stair, which up and up, with a top at 50, when you’re on the top of the world, only to turn and go down, down, down towards the grave. This is clearly out of date. Life goes up and down in periods and you won’t know until it’s over if your peak was at 20 or 80.

Aging in movies
There are good days and bad days, but I would lie if I didn’t admit that I think about aging from time to time – trying to cope, trying to understand, trying to reach acceptance of the fact that my mental age and physical age are two different things.

I’m not the only one to wrestle with those issues. Aging was a popular theme in the movies 2012. If it was more popular than before, I can’t honestly say. Perhaps it was just me taking notice, since the issue preoccupies my mind so much.

There were especially five movies from three different genres that stuck out to me as being about aging.

Skyfall age

The miserable action heroes
Dark Knight RisesFirst we have the case of the action heroes struggling with their aging. In Skyfall James Bond is on the verge of taking his supposed death as an excuse to retire for good. Eventually he’s brought into the match again but he’s not in the shape he used to be and doesn’t even pass the test to work as an agent.

Incidentally (or was it? You may wonder. I can’t help thinking of the year when there were three movies almost exactly at the same time, all about a child and a grown-up switching bodies with each other) The Dark Knight Rises has a similar theme. We get a shock meeting with our former hero. He’s old, tired and physically and mentally a broken man.

Bond and Batman are both suffering from disorientation. The job identity was all they had. Without it, they’re lost. Who are they once the hero suit is off? What are they supposed to do with the rest of their lives?

Best Exotic Marigold age
The positive approach
The people portrayed in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Hope Springs seem to cope with aging a ton better than the former action heroes.hope springs

If you’re to believe those films, retirement is the opposite of getting ill, lonely and bored. It’s the time in life when you finally can fulfil the dreams you’ve put aside for so long. Be wild! Take a one-way ticket to a country on the other side of the world! Bring your sex life to a new level! Anything is possible and if you meet an obstacle, it’s just a smaller bump on the road towards the end that we know from the very start will make us feel good. Such is the contract with the audience.

With the risk of sounding prejudiced I think these films mostly target people who are close to the age of the characters on the screen. Sadly enough there’s a bit of ageism in how we watch movies and it goes in both directions. Older people are reluctant to watch a film about teenagers and you rarely see youngsters queue for a film that could be about their grandparents. I thought they both were a lot better than they got credit for, especially the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel with its exceptional setup of great British actors.

Amour - age
Darkness and hope
The last movie in this theme is Amour, which happens to be one of my absolute favourite movies from 2012.

I have to admit that its take on aging shook me up a little in its brutal honesty. Here we’re far away from middle-aged action heroes pulling themselves together to perform yet another rescuing of the world or newly retired people travelling the world. This is Aging with a capital “a”: an uncensored picture of what exactly it means when your body and mind fails you as you’re taking your final stumbling steps towards death and what it’s like to be near someone who is in the middle of this process. Deep down we know this is going to happen, but we usually don’t acknowledge it.

Some people found it unbearable to watch. I wasn’t one of them. If you could look behind the apparent ugliness of aging, it’s also very sweet. If you get to experience closeness, love and care like this couple did during your final days in life, you can consider yourself lucky.

The conclusion
So first we had the action heroes trying to get on terms with getting older, then we had the newly retired or soon-to-be retried who demonstrate that it’s never too late to begin a new life. And finally the couple that are beyond merry trips to India, now dealing with the inevitable end.

They’re different sorts of movies, but they’re all looking for answers to the same kind of questions that I ask myself when I look myself in the mirror after my latest haircut:

Is there anything more left for me to do in life? Where now? How do I cope with the fact that I’m getting older?

And each one, in their unique way, has a reassuring answer: Look at all those people! They have found their way.

You will too one day.

About Motifs in Cinema
This post is a part in a yearly event called “Motifs in Cinema”, organized by Andrew Kendall at Encore’s World of Film & TV.

Here’s how Andrew describes the idea:

Motifs in Cinema is a discourse across some film blogs, assessing the way in which various thematic elements have been used in the 2012 cinematic landscape. How does a common theme vary in use from a comedy to a drama? Are filmmakers working from a similar canvas when they assess the issue of death or the dynamics of revenge? Like most things, a film begins with an idea – Motifs in Cinema assesses how various themes emanating from a single idea change when utilised by varying artists.”

Don’t miss out the other posts in this blogathon, which includes twelve different themes. All the posts are collected in a list over at Andrew’s place.

Written by Jessica

February 16, 2013 at 3:10 pm

31 Responses

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  1. Nice post. Once again I’m reminded that I need to see Amour.


    February 16, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    • Thank you Garrett! I recommend you to see it, although I’ve understood that it’s not for everyone.


      February 17, 2013 at 8:25 pm

  2. “Where now?” I keep asking myself that for decade or two, this question has nothing to do with age.
    While one still keep a kid inside self, one will find new ways, new direction. You do, you will.


    February 16, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    • Agreed. I think the sign that we might have grown a little tad older and if not wiser, at least more jaded, is that we give up the idea that we’ll ever find a definite, final answer to it. It will keep returning until the day I die.


      February 17, 2013 at 8:28 pm

  3. I’m planning on seeing Amour this afternoon, but the only other film you’ve mentioned that I’ve seen is Skyfall, where I found the aging motif to be odd when Bond was a new agent only two movies ago.

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention Expendables 2 😉


    February 16, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    • Oh yeah, I did watch The Dark Knight Rises, although that seems to have less to do with aging and more to do with being physically beaten for many years.


      February 16, 2013 at 8:05 pm

      • But isn’t it as if the years weight on Waynes’ shoulders in the beginning? It’s as if the people turning against Batman has made him grown old and jaded.


        February 17, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    • My omitting of Expendables 2 is easily explained: I haven’t watched it. Otherwise I probably would have fitted it into the post.


      February 17, 2013 at 8:29 pm

  4. Excellent post! I love the way you looked at different facets of aging: light and dark. I am 46, and I’m finding this is the best stage of life so far, in many ways.


    February 16, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    • Thank you so much Steph! Also happy to hear about you feeling happy about your/our age. You’re right – it’s great in many ways.


      February 17, 2013 at 8:32 pm

  5. Completely with you on “Hope Springs” being an unfortunately underrated film. How rare it is for a film to come about discusses sexuality that’s not about twenty-somethings?

    Also,good call on the similarities between Bond and Batman and their aging dilemmas.

    Andrew K.

    February 17, 2013 at 4:49 am

    • It really passed under the radar. I thought especially the first half was great. And I would rather have seen Tommy Lee Jones getting an Oscar nomination for this role than for Lincoln.


      February 17, 2013 at 8:33 pm

      • Agreed. I feel very left out of the conversation regarding TLJ and “Lincoln” since everyone seems to love him there, but I find very effective in “Hope Springs” so it sort of balances out.

        Andrew K.

        February 18, 2013 at 2:09 am

        • Exactly my view. I don’t see what’s so special in Lincoln… He’s wearing a disracting wig that is noticable, but apart from that…? On the other hand in Hope Springs – he gives a very nuanced portray of a type of man that you rarely get to see in movies. So locked up and yet so fragile in his rigidness…


          February 18, 2013 at 10:57 pm

  6. It’s funny that we both chose the Aging motif as I’m at the same juncture in life as you – mid-forties, child who doesn’t need as much supervision, etc. It’s more on the mind lately, but there’s also still much more to look forward to…

    Skyfall was one of the first movies I thought about when I did my piece on Aging, but I wish I had thought of Dark Knight Rises. Totally escaped my attention. Though I mentioned both Hope Springs and Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, I haven’t seen either – I should fix that as I’ve heard a good deal of praise for both.

    I respect Amour, but it never quite connected with me – except as an immediate visceral experience.

    Bob Turnbull

    February 17, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    • Hey there, my brother-in-arms! It’s probably no conincidence that the ones who picked this theme were the bloggers in their mid 40s. Midlife crises or not, I think it’s natural that we’re drawn to the topic.


      February 17, 2013 at 8:38 pm

  7. “According to an article my morning paper you can forget about making a career if you’re over 33.” Oh……oh no. That just makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry. But then the rest of your post gives me comfort. So thank you.

    I find your thoughts on Hope Springs (which I’ve seen) and Marigold (which I haven’t) interesting. I remember my Dad’s best friend telling me years ago that when I was his age, About Schmidt was a movie that would resonate with me much differently and in a much more significant way.


    February 17, 2013 at 10:01 pm

    • It’s been a while since I watched About Schmidt, but I remember liking it. I can very well imagine it improves over the years.

      I’m sorry for punching you with the start there, but I guess it would have been even worse if I had ended it there…


      February 17, 2013 at 10:09 pm

  8. You can write a new post when the new Star Wars comes, if Ford is still aboard then 😉

    Also, hasn’t retirement being an issue for Bond since at least Golden Eye?


    February 18, 2013 at 10:19 am

  9. Fantastic post, Jessica! Loved it. Great analysis.


    February 19, 2013 at 9:07 am

    • Thank you Fernando! You’re so supportive as always. Your kind shout-outs means a lot to me.


      February 19, 2013 at 7:43 pm

  10. Another wonderful post Jessica.

    And I just want to mention there’s already a couple of 2013 films (both of which just had their premieres at Berlin) dealing with this theme in a positive way, to look out for. GLORIA by Sebasitan Lelio, and ON MY WAY by Emmanuelle Bercot.

    Bonjour Tristesse

    February 22, 2013 at 7:20 am

    • Thank you! I know they had an aging theme when they did this blog event last year and I totally expect it to be in 2013 too. The filmmkakers get older and so does the audience. I think people’s interest for this won’t go away anytime soon.


      February 23, 2013 at 6:33 pm

  11. […] blogger Jessica pens an engaging piece on a recurring motif in cinema throughout 2012: […]

  12. Hello! Great post, a really interesting analysis of aging in the movies. Glad I stumbled upon your blog – great work.


    March 2, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    • Thank you so very much! Glad you stumbled in here and hope you’ll come back!


      March 3, 2013 at 3:41 pm

  13. As always a very interesting post about a subject that gets more important as you age. I’m closing in on 40 and you do notice your body not being what it used to be.


    April 4, 2013 at 11:43 am

    • Thanks! You’ll be amazed how quickly your perspective on “older people” in movies will switch from where you are now to a different place in just a few years.


      April 7, 2013 at 11:33 pm

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