- The Trip to Bountiful Posted in: Later Life Quests
1975, USA, 108 min.
Poor health and financial obligations have relegated Carrie Watts (Geraldine Page) to her soft-touch son (John Heard) and nagging daughter-in-law’s (Carlin Glynn) cramped apartment in 1940s Houston. What keeps Carrie going is the unflagging desire to return to her hometown of Bountiful, TX, where her memories are bathed in a nostalgic haze. When she finally makes her escape, Carrie’s ebullience darkens as the heartache of the past and the realities of the present gradually merge. Peter Masterson’s interpretation of Horton Foote’s play is a showcase for Page, who won an Academy Award for her tender performance. She makes us understand why Carrie craves retreating to the past: it’s a sanctuary against being marginalized and coddled. The film poignantly reminds us that obsessing over the past keeps us from enjoying the present.
- The Remains of the Day Posted in: Midlife
1993, UK-USA, 134 min.
James Stevens’ (Anthony Hopkins) stoic devotion makes him an exemplary butler. That trait wobbles with the arrival of young, new housekeeper Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson), whose affection for the middle-aged Stevens grows over the years. Director James Ivory’s adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel is unsparing in its lack of romanticism—the scenery is all rigid formality; the camerawork, all shadows—making the pair’s evolving relationship deceptively taboo. Stevens is so driven to follow his code of conduct that he sees Kenton as a threat, instead of a possible salvation from his self-imposed stifling. The film reveals that a lifetime of following orders has an unsettling impact. Stevens’ quiet grace may be an asset at dowdy, Nazi-sympathizing Darlington Hall, but it isolates him from the outside world—and his own happiness. Ivory doesn’t announce all of that, but discerning viewers will recognize the very real benefits of listening to our emotions at any age.
- Youth Posted in: Comedy Drama, Later Life Quests, Retirement
2015, Italy, 124 min.
Retired composer and living legend Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) is whiling away his days at an upscale Swiss resort, reveling in his apathy as he gets spa treatments and discusses the rigors of aging with his lifelong friend, once-great filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), another octogenarian, who is working on a movie he deems to be his masterpiece. Director-writer Paolo Sorrentino’s (The Great Beauty) garish, ephemeral parable twists and turns like a dream and has the narrative flow to match. Some viewers will disdain the opaque dialogue and pretzel-like plot behind a tired, defeated man’s attempt to find happiness and meaning in the now. However, Sorrentino’s ability to portray the foolishness in venerating the past—while trying to lay siege to the present—makes the occasionally indulgent, carnival-like flourishes worth enduring. We have to keep living, whether we like it or not. Youth is a movie you feel as much as you watch.
- Wild Strawberries Posted in: Later Life Quests
1957, Sweden (subtitled), 91 min.
At age 78, Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström) has led a distinguished life of scholarship and professionalism, one that has landed him an honorary degree. It’s also a life that has been cold and clinical, with little personal happiness. That is all revealed on a long trip to the award ceremony in Lund, Sweden. The trip features a visit with his snippy mother, a car accident, three young hitchhikers and a series of unusual, nostalgic dreams that may speak to Borg’s truth more than he realizes. Ingmar Bergman’s classic drama of emptiness and ennui is harsh and occasionally abstract, yet there’s a tragic, haunting beauty that is undeniable. The film bobs and weaves, lingering just out of our reach. In that way, it’s a lot like life, which is part of the film’s endurance.
- A Walk in the Woods Posted in: Comedy Drama, Later Life Quests
2015, USA, 114 min.
Author Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) is in a late-life rut that demands a shake-up. For this inveterate traveler, that means hiking the length of the Appalachian Trail, a feat that exhausts men in their 20s. His wife (Emma Thompson) hates the idea, so Bryson seeks a companion from his Des Moines childhood and long-ago travels abroad. Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte) resembles a wheezing raspberry under any kind of exertion beyond a stroll, yet the two men proceed. They emerge battered, exhausted and enlightened. It turns out there’s more to their lives than their pasts. The future is full of possibilities, and the present isn’t so bad. Director Ken Kwapis leads the proceedings toward silliness a bit, but Nolte and Redford rein him in. The duo is so comfortable in their roles that the movie’s acrid positivity never wanes. Forget the R rating (for Nolte’s salty language) and watch this with the whole family.
- A Man Called Ove Posted in: Cinema, Families, Friendships
2016, Sweden, 116 min.
Yes, a film about an unemployed, 59-year-old widower (the title character, played by Rolf Lassgård) who attempts suicide multiple times is immensely touching. This Swedish box-office smash, based on the best-selling novel, reveals the man behind the growling countenance, who patrols his condominium complex for imaginary violations. During each attempt to end his life, Ove recounts the highs and lows—from meeting his wife to surviving a series of unfathomable tragedies—and what brought him to this precipice. The film reveals the genesis of the bitter-old-person archetype: it emerges through life’s relentless onslaught. Understanding is integral—from everyone. In an ironic development that goes from absurd to touching, younger people keep interrupting Ove’s attempts, reminding him that people need other people. The story frames aging as a mutual act: young and old must make a commitment to appreciate what each offers.