Movies offer us a chance to view things from someone else's perspective-especially when those individuals are entering old age and are so knowledgeable. To gain more understanding of what it is like to walk in the shoes of the elderly, we can use films that specifically explore themes of old age, life, love, and death. The following movies are a great place to start if you want to understand more about the lives of the elderly, or to merely witness the beauty, comedy, and tragedy that are common to all of our lives, through the lens of seniors.
Movies About Old Age
Quartet is a British comedy/drama directed by Dustin Hoffman and based on a 1999 play of the same name. The plot revolves around a retirement home in London known as Beecham House. The residents are all former recording artists, including Reg, Wilf, and Cissy who are all retired opera singers that used to work with one another. Finances threaten to close the facilities they live at, but if the residents can generate enough proceeds from a yearly gala concert, they will be able to keep the Beecham House open. Everyone is thrown for a loop when Jean Horton, Reg’s ex-wife and once famous opera singer arrives at the home. Their divorce was not on agreeable terms, but the gala's organizer believes that if Jean, Reggie, Wilf, and Cissy all perform the "Bella figlia dell'amore" from "Rigoletto" at the gala, (as they once recorded as a group and were most famous for that song) they could save Beecham House. The movie deals with themes of old age, such as finding forgiveness for mistakes of the past, finding daily joy in the little things, and dealing with the problems and side effects of dementia.
Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
This classic film is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Alfred Uhry. The setting is rural Atlanta in 1948, where Daisy, a 72-year-old Jewish grandmother, and former school teacher, crashes her car and is forced by her son to retain the caretaking services of Hoke Coleburn, a 60-year-old unemployed African American (played by Morgan Freeman). Over the course of the film, we see the relationship between the two develop over a period of 25 years. Initially, Daisy and Hoke are apprehensive of one another, and Daisy is often inappropriately curmudgeonly. Over time, the two grow to understand and like another, with Daisy teaching Hoke how to read. In the fall of 1971, Daisy suffers from an episode of dementia, thinking she is still a school teacher. After having been calmed down, she declares that Hoke is her best friend. Two years later Hoke is 85 years old, and Daisy is 97 in a retirement home, and the two have become close friends. The film deftly explores themes of love and dependence as time progresses.
The Bucket List (2007)
Another classic Morgan Freeman movie, The Bucket List is about two men in advanced age who are given the same terminal cancer diagnosis and decide to pursue a bucket list of items to do rather than remain in the hospital. Despite their different backgrounds, the two men, Carter (played by Morgan Freeman) and Edward (played by Jack Nicholson) embark on this journey together that takes them around the world. The pair goes race car driving, skydiving, climb the Pyramids and go on a lion safari in Africa. Along the way they confide in one another about faith and family, growing closer. However, after a falling out, they both decide to return home to see their families before completing all of the list. While home, Carter suffers from a sudden seizure and is rushed to the hospital where Edward is in remission. Carter dies on the operating table, and Edward vows to finish the list for him. In the end, Edward meets his estranged granddaughter and completes one more item: “Kiss the most beautiful girl in the world.” In the epilogue, we see that Edward and Carter’s ashes are carried to the top of the Himalayas by Edward’s son, where he crosses of the final item of the list: “Witness something truly majestic.” Bucket List is a touching tribute to the beauty of the world and a reminder that we are never too old to chase our dreams. It also teaches us that we’re never too old to travel the world, learn things about ourselves, and make new friends.
Gran Torino (2008)
Gran Torino is a film directed by and starring the legendary Clint Eastwood. The story revolves around Walt Kowalski, an elderly widower and Vietnam veteran who has to deal with a changing neighborhood. His once all-white neighborhood is now mostly southeastern Asian, including a Hmong family that has moved in next door. He doesn’t have great relationships with his family and prefers to spend most of his time at the barbershop or fixing his prized 1972 Gran Torino. Thao, a young man who has moved in next door, is coerced into trying to steal Walt’s Gran Torino, but Walt thwarts him, and the two gradually develop a friendship where Walt mentors the young man on values of masculinity. Slowly, Walt grows to have more in common with Thao and his sister Sue than his own family. The culmination of the film is an incredible juxtaposition of what the audience expects and how Walt has evolved as a character, and I won’t spoil it here. Overall, the movie does an excellent job of showing that our elderly are not just people living out of their time. They have valuable ideas and can teach us a thing or two about growing up. It also demonstrates the importance of being open to other cultures.
Amour is a French film that focuses on the relationship between an elderly couple, Anne and Georges, who are retired music teachers. Anne suffers a stroke that paralyzes the left side of her body, changing their lives forever. Georges cares for Anne over time as her condition gradually gets worse, and we witness the tragic effects that illness can wreak on an aging body. The two lock themselves up in their house, with George straining to provide care while their bond of love is severely tested. Anne eventually undergoes surgery, but procedure goes wrong and confines her to a wheelchair. She makes George promise not to send her to a nursing home or the hospital ever again. Weeks later she suffers a second stroke that leaves her incapable of coherent speech and dementia-ridden. The film is not for the faint of heart, as it delves into the heartbreaking realities of mental and physical illness, as well as tasking George with an impossible choice to make regarding his wife. However, it is also a tender exploration of true love between individuals who would do anything for one another. According to the director, the theme of the movie is not just about old age and death, but with how to deal with the suffering of a loved one.
There are a plethora of ways to learn more about and experience the lives of those who are embracing old age. Visit your local assisted living facility, senior center, or retirement community. Talk to residents about their lives, and you may be surprised to find even more comedy, tragedy, and beauty than in these films!