Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns, Film

In praise of old folks on screen

by Rochelle Siemienowicz , February 20, 20144 Comments

 Le Week-End

 

It seems like yesterday when we were bemoaning the fact that Hollywood didn’t make movies for grown-ups anymore. (Or maybe that was just me arguing back in 2012 that our cinemas were full of recycled superheroes and stupid action films aimed at teenaged boys.)

Well, right now you don’t have to look far to find great movies about characters who are not only grown up, but quite frankly old. It says something about our culture that I spent a good ten minutes trying to find a polite word to use instead of ‘old’, ‘elderly’ or ‘aged’. But why not tell the truth and stare age in the face, the way the movies themselves are doing it?

Nebraska, All Is Lost and Le Week-End are in release this week (20 Feb), while The Great Beauty and Philomena (starring an energetic 79-year-old Judi Dench) are still going strong in art-house release. There’s hardly an unwrinkled face among them. (We could also talk about the horrid Last Vegas, starring Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline as superannuated boys on a tacky and embarrassing bachelor party spree, but let’s just stick to the films you should see.)

Nebraska stars a 77-year-old Bruce Dern, who’s up for an Oscar for his fearless performance as Woody, a shuffling, wispy-haired alcoholic on the verge of dementia. Woody is obsessed with travelling to Nebraska to collect a shonky $1 million prize. His long-suffering adult son (Will Forte) tags along as the old man doggedly pursues his tragi-comic dreams. Shot in lustrous black and white, and directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants), Nebraska manages to maintain a perky outlook, while still being bleakly realistic about ageing and the experience of living with persistent regrets and disappointments.

All is Lost is the powerful and almost wordless story of a lone sailor struggling to survive in the open ocean. Directed by J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) and starring the rugged  77-year-old Robert Redford, it’s a gripping depiction of stoic resourcefulness, but also a film that refuses to shy away from mortality. The snowballing problems that strip him of his initial mastery and self-reliance can be read as a metaphor for the endless challenges and potential indignities of the ageing process.

On a lighter note, Le Week-End (written by Hanif Kureishi and directed by Roger Michell) follows a sixty-something British couple (Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan) who go to Paris to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. In the process, they confront the realities and irritations of their marriage – with lots of comedy to leaven the mix. Beautifully written and performed, there are biting truths here that will resonate with anyone who’s lived in a long term relationship. There’s the added sting of seeing that growing older doesn’t necessarily make love any easier. In fact, with finite years left, there’s even more urgency to live well and find bliss.

We live in a culture that worships the beauty of youth and celebrates the accomplishments of the precocious. (She did all that! And she’s not even 28!) Yet the reality is that if we’re lucky, we’re all going to grow old. And whether we face it or not, we’re all going to die. It’s the ultimate equaliser. Perhaps you like to go to the movies to escape such grim facts, and there’s nothing wrong with pure escapism.

Still, there’s something bracing and even reassuring about seeing old people take centre stage on screen. They go before us and show us how it can be done – and sometimes how it shouldn’t be done. Such stories insist that there are still adventures to be had over the age of 60; still journeys to be taken, demons to be wrestled and love that must be continually reinvented if it is going to see us to the grave.

Sobering? Perhaps. Or maybe just real. Old characters on screen – in all their messy variety – are there as they should be, as part of the human race.

Rochelle Siemienowicz is a Melbourne-based film journalist, reviewer and editor. 

ACO logo




  • Eloise Ross

    This is great, Rochelle. When I think of age I always return to Leo McCarey’s Make Way For Tomorrow. Heartbreaking and heartwarming!

    • R Siemienowicz

      Thanks Eloise, good call. Must re-visit that one.

  • Mel Campbell

    I feel like the Michael Haneke parody Twitter account put it best: “roses r red, violuts is blu, old ppl be dyin of strokes and sumday u will 2″

    • R Siemienowicz

      There’s a Haneke parody Twitter account? Must find.

22454066

Jacinta Halloran

Medicine as Art: An interview with Terrence Holt

Internal Medicine turns on its head the commonly-held wisdom of power and control in the doctor-patient relationship. Holt’s doctor-narrator is conflicted and questioning, often exhausted and confused. His writing aims for something less slick than the sanitised television offerings of medical melodramas, where ‘what entertains usually falsifies.’ Read more »

2303400407_d25f8d8b8a_o

James Tierney

What Australian Literary Conversation?

I am concerned about the absence of a performative aspect of criticism in the public domain, which doesn’t necessarily assume specialised knowledge or recognised allegiances, but is prepared to discuss what criticism is. Read more »

9781847086273

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their picks

Is your to-read pile looking particularly uninspiring at the moment? Or maybe you’ve just finished a novel and aren’t quite sure what to read next. Never fear! The staff from Readings bookshop have your back. Here they share what they’ve been reading this month. Read more »

gbbo

Rebecca Shaw

Crumbling the Great Wall of Heteronormative Assumption

You are just there to see a doctor, or have a haircut, when all of a sudden you are reminded that you are different. You are forced to come out to strangers over and over again. You are required to either refute their assumptions and risk having an awkward or unpleasant discussion with a stranger about your personal life, or you are forced to lie. Read more »

6314976-3x2-940x627

Rebecca Shaw

Out of Alignment: Religion, politics and priorities

Throughout your (hopefully long) life, you will often be forced to prioritise one thing over another thing.
Because we make these decisions based on what we personally think is important or morally right, the things other people choose to prioritise can be confusing or upsetting to us. I find this happens regularly when bearing witness to what some religious people or religious groups choose to place importance on. Read more »

Rebecca Shaw

TERF War: Transphobia in the LGBTQI community

I started to realise that I was ‘not like other girls’ about the time I hit puberty. From that point on I underwent an extensive and daunting process to emerge from my closeted cocoon into the beautiful lesbian butterfly I am today. An important part of that development was realising – mostly via the Internet (or very occasionally through people I met in real life) – that there were people like me all over the world. Read more »

anne-dorval-and-antoine-olivier-pilon-in-xavier-dolans-mommy

Joanna Di Mattia

All About His Mother: Xavier Dolan’s fierce women

Xavier Dolan has created an exuberant body of cinema that privileges women (and others on the margins) as complex, chaotic beings. Dolan’s fierce mothers are cleaved from the pedestal that so much of cinema places them on, so that they may dig around in the dirt that is life. Read more »

every-day-2012-005_cmyk

Anwen Crawford

Being Boring: Passing time with the films of Michael Winterbottom

What does it mean to film the same performers over the course of years, to have them age in front of the camera? Everyday pays careful attention to boredom, and at moments it manages to capture a sense of time that is both elusive and profound. Read more »

flock_roof

Anwen Crawford

Don’t be Sheepish: Why Ewe Should See Shaun the Sheep Movie

Shaun the Sheep Movie is the latest feature-length production from Aardman Animations (the folk who brought us Chicken Run), and it is a delight. Borrow a young relative for cover if you must, but believe me, you are not too cool for a kid’s movie when it’s this much fun. Read more »

TheSlap_Show

Genevieve Wood

The Slap: What’s lost when a cricket bat becomes a baseball bat?

‘A cricket bat wouldn’t make sense in an American context’, says Tony Ayres, executive producer of the US adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap. He’s right, of course – it wouldn’t. But when, in US playwright Jon Robin Baitz’s version, the eponymous slap occurs as the result of a swinging baseball bat, something’s not quite right. Read more »

empire-tv-review-fox

Anwen Crawford

Rise of an Empire

Watching Empire, I wondered why there haven’t been more television shows about record labels, the music industry being the cesspit of venality that it is. Forget TV dramas about police departments and hospital wards – a show about a record label comes with all that conflict, plus outfits, plus songs. Read more »

video-undefined-22D54AFA00000578-784_636x358

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Insufferable assholes and grown up Girls

Yes, our girls are growing, learning, discovering. But all they’re really discovering is how toxic and unheroic they are, and how to use that to their advantage. They’re not going to grow out of their asshole tendencies, because they are actually assholes. Read more »

DUKMRUTRHLU31425064919799

Katie Williams

The Currency of Games: The real world cost of in-game purchases

A new item introduced in World of Warcraft lets players purchase a month of playing time for the real-life price of $20, which they can then sell to other players in-game in exchange for virtual currency. It’s an exchange of real money for a virtual currency that has in-game value but none in the physical, ‘real’ world – and it makes me incredibly uneasy. Read more »

2011 Jesse Knish Photography

Katie Williams

Pilgrimage to San Francisco: Power and Privilege at the Game Developers Conference

Attendees talk about the annual pilgrimage to the Game Developer’s Conference with the same reverence as a child’s first trip to Disney World. It’s the Magic Kingdom for adult nerds. The weeks leading up to the conference are full of discussion about which parties to attend, and how best to make an impression on people who could be useful in furthering your game development career. Read more »

jakobson0052

Katie Williams

Storytelling vs. interactivity: What makes a highbrow game?

What makes a game ‘highbrow’? We don’t have solid criteria for deciding conclusively which games are masterpieces, and which are just dumb, explosive fun. Read more »

ForceM6609

Jane Howard

Witness and Connection at Melbourne’s Dance Massive

In a city where it feels not a day goes by without an arts festival, or three, happening, Melbourne’s Dance Massive is resolutely unique. Australia’s largest dance festival is by necessity heavily reliant on Melbourne-based companies and shows that will go on to tour independently of the festival. The festival is undeniably of, and for, the dance sector in Melbourne. Read more »

16475519129_bb489cf4ce_o

Jane Howard

Creative Space: The secret power of community theatres

Theatre is inextricably tied to space, and the best theatre spaces become more than buildings. They become communities of like-minded people: of artists and of audience members, intermingling their ideas and their lives. Read more »

Tessa Waters stars in Womanz

Jane Howard

Fringe Feminism: Women, comedy and performance art

Taken together, the work of these female comics and performers loudly proclaims that their ideas about gender, femininity, performance and comedy are not diametrically opposed. It is because of their performance backgrounds that their shows are hilarious, not in spite of them. Read more »