Motifs in Cinema 2012: Aging
According 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.
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 This is clearly out of date.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.
The miserable action heroes
First 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?
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.
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.
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.