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Motifs in Cinema 2012: Aging

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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 This is clearly out of date.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

Amour is as unsentimental as it’s heartbreaking

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For a moment I was playing with the idea to start this post suggesting that there should be an age limit for Amour. 40 sounded just about right.

People under the age of 40 should, if not be denied entrance, at least get a warning that this film might not be their cup of tea.

But then I changed my mind and felt ashamed at even considering this. I hate ageism as much as I hate sexism, if not more. Sexism is questioned and fought these days, but very few people will raise their voices against prejudices, stereotypes and discrimination against people of a certain age. It’s accepted, both ways. People are equally often dismissed for being “too young to get it” as “too old to understand”. And both ways are stupid.

I think it’s perfectly possible for someone who is in their 30s or even 20s to embrace Amour, depending on what life experiences and what view on life you have. It’s not about your physical age as much as about your mental.

Have you ever been close to illness and death? I mean, really close, so close that you grew ten years older over a night? Have you ever seen someone near you fading away from you physically and mentally, standing helplessly at their side, unable to do anything more than just being there, not running away in fear? Do you think about your own upcoming death and how your life will look when you’re in your 80s and you’ll hear the countdown watch louder and clearer day by day?  If your answers are “yes”, chances are that you’re going love Amour. It’s not about a number in your birthday license. 21, 41 or 61 years old – it’s about how you can relate to the fact that we all will get old and die one day.

Melted together
In Michael Haneke’s latest movie we get to follow the last phase in the life of an elderly couple. It’s a time of inevitable loss of life and of each other, but also a time when the love they feel for each other takes new expressions. When Georges holds Anne tight to his body, helping her moving from the toilet to the wheelchair, they’re closer to each other than if we’d seen them having sex when their bodies still were young.

All those years have melted them together, and I’m looking in vain for words how to describe it, but all I can come up with are a few lines from Hedwig and the Angry Inch:

Last time I saw you/We had just split in two/You were looking at me/I was looking at you
You had a way so familiar/But I could not recognize/Cause you had blood on your face/I had blood in my eyes
But I could swear by your expression/That the pain down in your soul/Was the same as the one down in mine
That’s the pain/ It cuts a straight line/Down through the heart/We called it love”

I guess it looks like a long jump from Hedwig to Amour, but what I think what those films have in common is that neither of the shies away from tough existential questions, from the nature of love and from the deep pain that comes with that you’re a living human being.

A lot of tears
I cried my way throughout the entire film. It wasn’t a loud, out-of-control wailing, but a silent, sweet never-ceasing, cleansing drizzle. It was tears over people that were dear to me who have died or who are waiting to die, in a situation resembling to the movie. It was tears over the fact in the end, inevitably, we all die alone.

It would be wrong to jump into the conclusion from this that Haneke has turned soft and sentimental at old age, manipulating and pulling the heartstrings of the audience using cheap tricks. He doesn’t. The film is very quiet, never using any big gestures to convey a certain point. I don’t know if Haneke even has a message. Maybe all he wants is to show how some of us will end our lives. If we’re lucky, that will say. Not everyone ends up having a relationship like Georges’ and Anne’s.

Is it a tough watch, like some of the previous Haneke movies? Well, sort of. It’s not gory by any means. But it shows us our fragility and mortality in a very upfront way, sides of our existence that we usually prefer to not look too deeply in it, using drugs and whatever other distraction we can think of to escape from it.

Amour forces us to look at it realistically and ask those uncomfortable questions. What will happen to me when I’m in my 80s? Will I lie in diapers in a bed, repeatedly calling out: “pain, pain, pain” without noticing what’s happening around me? Will there be someone there who will take care of me? How will I die? Will I have to watch the ones I love dying away from me? Will I be ready to deal with it, standing by their sides until the very end, not just as a beautiful idea, but also in reality?

Watch this film if you’ve come to a point in your life where you’re ready to handle it. If not – just leave it for the time being. Enjoy your innocence and ignorance and the life you lead here and now and leave the sorrows for tomorrow. There’s no shame in that.

For me Amour was one of my strongest movie experiences this year.

Amour (Michael Haneke, FR/AU 2012) My rating: 5/5

Written by Jessica

December 11, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in Amour