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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 This is clearly out of date.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

Watching old people not having sex is funnier than you would think

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“Things they do look awful cold
I hope I die before I get old”

My Generation remains one of my favorite songs, even though I’ve started to get some doubts about the second line.

At 44 I’m not quite as eager to die before I get old. I’ve realized that it won’t be too long before I’m there too, and I can’t imagine that I’ll feel any more done living at that point than I am now. The world is a big place, as  xkcd pointed out the other day

Looking at pop culture, you’d believe that most people quit life at a far earlier point though. Somewhere around our mid 40s, we’re done, ready to go and hide in some cave so no one has to be exposed to our ugliness, wrinkles and old ideas, take or leave a few years. Women disappear from the screens earlier while men are allowed to hang around for a few more years

Tolerance and interest for people of different ages only works one way. While 65 year olds don’t mind watching movies about 17 year olds, since they’ve also been 17 once upon a time and can relate to it, the 17 year olds who want to hear about the lives of 65 year olds are few.

And that’s why the stories of the older people so rarely are told.

There are exceptions of course. Earlier this year I enjoyed the senior cast of Best Exotic Marigold Hotel quite a bit and now there’s another movie out that also targets an audience with more life experience.

Dark and funny
Hope Springs brings us into the life of a couple whose marriage after 30 years has gone cold and dysfunctional. As a last effort to try to save the wife insists on that they should attend a weeklong therapy session, which the husband reluctantly agrees to do. And as viewers we get to follow them along on a long and hard journey where they explore all the dark and dusty corners of their marriage and their sexuality.

The first half of the film reminded me of one of my favorite TV series, In Treatment. The sessions in the therapy sofa are dark, touching and occasionally funny.

When the film leaves the therapy and they’re practicing on their own, it loses a little of its nerve and turns into a slightly more traditional rom-com. The score was also a little bit disturbing: too cheesy, too much pointing on the nose and with some way too long sequences – full length music videos that made me impatient.

But even with those objections, the film surprised me. I was surprised at how much I laughed at it. Never did I imagine that watching an old couple not having sex could be so funny. I was surprised at how honest it felt. It’s very straight forward about one of our few remaining taboos. And I was surprised at the performance by Tommy Lee Jones in one of the leading roles. I already knew that Meryl Streep would be excellent.

You don’t need to be 60+ to enjoy it. All it takes is that you’re old enough to realize that dying young is a worse alternative than getting old.

Hope Springs (David Frankel, US, 2012) My rating: 3,5/5

Written by Jessica

September 20, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in Hope Springs