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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 This is clearly out of date.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

A two hour vacation from real life crap

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Halfway through my expected lifespan, I’ve come to terms with the fact that life inevitably contains a bit of misery.

Everybody has some crap going on. The broken relationships, the dreams that shattered and the small decisions that led to a one-way road in the wrong direction. Someone turns out to be an alcoholic, someone near you tries to kill herself, a painful divorce appears out of nowhere.

Sadness, illness, death and despair. Sooner or later we all run into it, one thing or another.

A little bit of misery is a part of the deal and if you haven’t seen it yet, you will, trust me.

Two hour vacation
But some people get more than the average share of crap. They seem to be cursed, magnets of misfortune. I have a friend like that, who desperately needed a vacation from her life. If I had been wealthy I would have hijacked her, telling her to pack her toothbrush, taking her to a far distant place, releasing her from the responsibilities. Instead I took her to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

It wasn’t the two weeks on a paradise island that she might have needed; it was two hours on a shabby hotel. But hey, you take what you can get. Her weightless laughter throughout the movie, the relaxed expression on her face as the lights went up, telling me that she had been elsewhere, reminded me of one of the things I love so much about going to movies. They give us instant relief. They take us to places. They allow us to forget.

If I was grumpy and put on my high brow face expression, I could point out that the plot about this bunch of retired Brits going to India for various reasons where they grow and reach insights and (mostly) end up better than before they went, is a bit predictable, bland and cheesy. There are stereotypes. While I too laughed quite a few times, not all jokes worked for me. Some of it felt as old as the actors.

But you know what? Sometimes you need to just tell your inner film snob to sod off.  Because this is another of the things you learn as you get older.

There is a place for backpack travelling to far distant places with no comfort at all where nobody else has been. But sometimes you’re at a point in your life when you’re better off with a charter trip to somewhere where the water is clear and warm, the beach is endless, the food is decent and the beds are nice. Even if it’s utterly, utterly uncool.

So: sod off, the snob in me!

I enjoyed our two hour charter trip to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I enjoyed it because it gave me an injection of color, warmth, light and hope. I enjoyed it because of the wonderful cast of British veteran actors. I enjoyed it because I was charmed.

Love Geriatically
A user at IMDb called it “Love Geriatically” and apologize it for sounding cynic. I think the label is pretty good though. There are those multiple storylines, there’s the mix of comedy, romance and drama and it all ends pretty well, or at least as good as it gets. What makes it different to other films in this genre is the average age of the actors, which is way higher than the normal. Off-putting? No, rather refreshing.

The movie is full of the kind of life wisdom one-liners you used to find on postcards and magnets that my mother-in-law puts on her refrigerator.

One of the statement got sticky, and no wonder, since it’s repeated over and over again by Sonny, the young and enthusiastic Indian who tries to run the hotel despite bad odds:

“Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not the end.”

To be honest, this isn’t exactly eloquent standing on its own. I’d rather say it’s clumsy, shallow and pointless. But somehow it worked at this time, in this movie, and as we shared a bottle of wine, making an update on the last miserable events, we couldn’t refrain from quoting it with a wry smile.

Life can and will get better. Misery is just a part of the deal. Getting older isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There might be a Marigold Hotel waiting for us somewhere, at some point.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (John Madden, UK, 2011) My rating: 3,5/5

Written by Jessica

May 17, 2012 at 11:38 am