Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"He gave the audience absolutely nothing": Umberto D (Vittorio De Sica, 1952)

Recent years have seen a proliferation of films centering on elderly people and their struggle to be happy in spite of health problems and low life expectancy. Mainstream cinema has not failed to recognize the potential of stories about old people engaging in passionate and sometimes exotic love (It's Complicated, Marigold Hotel), overcoming social and ethnic barriers (The Bucket List), or pursuing artistic and personal fulfillment in the face of illness and weakness (Quartet). 

A common denominator of such productions seems to be the underlying message that it's never too late for anything, no matter how hard the clinical picture. Moreover, these movies often play with common beliefs about elderly people, who are not supposed to behave and feel the way young people do. We have become accustomed mainly to two stereotypes: the grumpy old man who comes out of his shell and commits to love (Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets) and the adorable old lady who occasionally turns out to be more easy-going and hedonistic than we would expect from a woman that age (a prototype could be Ruth Gordon's character in Harold and Maude). From variations on these two character types originates much of the geriatric comedy we see in film today.

All these stories somewhat exorcize and offer us a consolation from a not-so-enticing prospect that, in the best case, awaits us in the future. But it's not my intention to make fun of those who enjoy this type of entertainment. If you ask me, I'm simply terrified by the idea of one day finding myself decrepit, ill, alone in this world, and financially incapable of even procure myself a mercy killing in a more civilized country than mine. Death is nothing in comparison to this. Unfortunately, watching senescent people preparing weed cakes or engaging in wild sex gives me depression rather than consolation, and I usually tend to prefer movies that maintain a certain level of honesty about the matter.