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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 This is clearly out of date.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

And now I’m a believer

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For some people Skyfall is the most anticipated movie of the year. I wasn’t one of those to be honest. I’m not exactly a Bond hater, but let’s put it this way: I thought it was time to consider sending him to retirement.

All those “g-words” that worked so well in the 70s had become irrevocably dated, not up to par with the standard I expect from a film. The girls, the gadgets, the gags, the gambling and the glamorous settings – I was done with it. Done with clichés. Done with misogyny. Shaken or stirred – I didn’t care anymore. Enough was enough.

Considering this skepticism you may wonder why I bothered to see the film at all. And what can I say? I guess it’s a case of “for old love’s sake” and nostalgia. There’s something about the Bond theme that puts even me – an unbeliever – in a mood of anticipation. Besides the first reports I had heard from people who had seen it were quite favorable. And when I gave it a closer thought I realized that while action isn’t my favorite genre, I still enjoy having a rollercoaster run once in a while. And that was at least something that I expected the Bond franchise to deliver.

So I ignored the fact that it was one of the first sunny days we’ve had for months, which is a great sin in Sweden, where the sun is worshiped more than any other deity. Instead I joined the abysmal audience for a midday screening in the largest theatre in my city, because I knew from experience that in the case of Bond movies, the size is essential. The bigger screen, the better it gets.

It turned out that I wasn’t the only one who had been mulling over the need to put Bond at rest. As a matter of fact it was the red thread that went through the entire film. James Bond’s physical and mental capability to work as an agent was questioned – but also MI6’s working methods and reason to exist. Who needs spies anymore?

A convert
Two and a half hours later I came out from the film as a convert. I hope it’s not a spoiler to say that the movie ends with a message to the audience that Bond will be back. Before watching Skyfall, this message would have made me sigh a little. “Why?” “Really?” “Can’t you come up with something new?” Now I received the information, if not with surprise, at least with an approving nod. More Bond? Yes, please, as long as it is in this version!

Gone are the days of when the main occupation of Bond was to drink and mess around with innumerous women in minimal swimming suits, only interrupted when he needed to perform yet another chasing scene in a vehicle that had been adjusted for underwater purposes.

Now they haven’t ridden themselves with the girls completely. There’s at least one typical “Bond chick” around, whose main purpose is to provide eye-candy to the male audience. But compared to how it used to be, we’ve come a long way.

Rather than focusing on Bond being smarter, richer, fitter and getting more girls than anyone else, it focuses on existential and psychological questions – such as aging issues and the exact nature of the relationship between M and the agents. We also get glimpses of the early life of Bond, which could be used as a set-up for the next few Bond movies to come.

I’m not sure what fans of old-school Bond will think of it. If the playboy lifestyle was what attracted you most to the franchise, you might get disappointed. If you ask me, all I say is: “good riddance”.

However I think that those who disapprove of the change of environment and tone still won’t have anything bad to say about the action. From the initial pre-credit chasing scene to the final blow-up, it holds the level you can expect from a movie with this kind of budget: exciting, sometimes jaw-dropping and with enough of variation for it to never get boring.

The cast
Finally I have to say something about the cast, because it’s just so good.

I love Javier Bardem’s villain – evil, dark, crazy and intelligent as you can expect from a bad guy of this caliber, but with a back story that brings you some insight to from where he’s coming. Judi Dench has been around for long, but this time she gets a great deal more screentime than we’re used to, and is as much the main character of the film as Bond. I was also pleasantly surprised to see Ralph Fiennes – one of my favorite actors – and completely charmed by the new, young version of Q (or “cute”, as I promptly re-named him), in the form of Ben Whishaw.

After watching Skyfall I sent this tweet: “I was reluctantly impressed and entertained. Pre-movie I advocated his retirement. Not anymore”.

I will look forward to the next Bond movie, even though I could do with a little less of publicity around it than we’ve seen for Skyfall.  The media coverage is just a little bit too much, and the risk is that you get an overdose of Bond before you’ve even watched it.

And that would be a shame on such a good film.

Skyfall (Sam Mendes, UK, 2012) My rating: 4,5/5

Written by Jessica

October 29, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in Skyfall