It often feels like movies are full of young people. The superheroes saving the world tend to be young, the people fighting intergalactic wars in space tend to be young, and the people falling in and out of love (and then back again) in romantic comedies tend to be young. More often than not, these sorts of movies also aim at a younger audience.
But that doesn’t mean filmmakers outright ignore the elderly. Each deal with characters who are either elderly or coming to terms with the fact that they are getting old, and nothing can be done to stop it. It’s a bittersweet fact of life that old age is an inevitability, and plenty of movies set out to explore that idea without shying away from the struggles that aging entails.
amour is one of German-Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke‘s best-known movies. He has a reputation for shocking, difficult movies, and while amour is not nearly as graphic as some other films he’s made, it is shocking how bluntly it depicts how the ways a couple in their 80s have their lives thrown out of balance when one suffers a stroke.
It’s a quiet and incredibly solemn film, making for a difficult watch. The film is slow and anything but thrilling, but it is powerful, and parts of it will stick with anyone who watches it — even those who might otherwise find it a less than engaging watch. It lays out some harsh truths about how declining health in old age can impact anyone in any number of unforeseen ways and thereby becomes a definitive movie about being elderly.
x is a horror movie that isn’t centered on the elderly, at least not at first. It follows a group of young filmmakers and adult film actors in the 1970s as they rent out a remote cabin to use so that they can make an adult movie for cheap. The cabin owners, however, are elderly and don’t respond well when they find out why those younger people are using their property…
It’s a film that makes villains out of the elderly, sure, but it’s also strangely sympathetic to those acting villains, even while out violently against the youth. It ends up being a film about regretting one’s youth, the sadness that can come with being old, and even the way jealousy can divide generations. It does all this while, of course, also being incredibly gory and unsettling as a horror film, so it’s got quite a lot to offer in the end.
up is famous for its tear-jerking opening montage, which depicts the ups and downs of the life shared by a married couple until one of them, Ellie, passes away. Carl (Ed Asner) is left to continue growing old alone. He is shown to struggle with finding meaning in his life until he finally fulfills his lifelong dream with the help of a young, overly enthusiastic boy scout.
Pixar tends to focus on younger protagonists, only going as old as middle-aged before upwith something like The Incredibles. thigh up confronts a handful of truths about getting old respectfully and in a manner that’s mild enough not to trouble or bore younger viewers while still being appreciated by the older ones.
‘The Irishman’ (2019)
Martin Scorsese‘s 3.5-hour-long crime epic is a quietly devastating film about what happens when the kinds of criminal characters Scorsese’s built a career around start getting old. It tells the story of Frank Sheehan (Robert DeNiro)a hitman who may have been involved with the disappearance of union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), and shows the ghosts from his past that haunt him in his old age.
Scorsese was 77 when The Irishman was released in 2019, and most of the principal cast were in their 70s while it was being made, too. It still has the violence and entertainment value viewers expect from a Scorsese crime film, but things are naturally a little slower, more somber, and more despairing. By the end, you almost forget it’s a crime film, as the final 20 minutes deal with a reality that many older people can surely relate to, not just those who were criminals when they were younger.
‘Going in Styl’ (1979)
Going in Style is about three old men who rob a bank, both because they long to feel some excitement in their lives and due to the financial restrictions in their lives. It is a pretty realistic depiction of how such an event would go in real life. It is a surprisingly honest film about the disadvantages of aging and the disappointing way life slows down in its final stages.
It does start as a comedy for sure but becomes surprisingly sad by the end, feeling much more like a grounded drama than the zany comedy-crime movie you might expect from its premise. It’s also worth noting that it shouldn’t be mixed up with the 2017 remake, which is far lighter, goofier, and not nearly as insightful or “real” when looking at the boredom and disappointment that comes with growing old.
‘Jackass Forever’ (2022)
Jackass Forever is being billed as a finale for the jackass crew, as they reunite (supposedly) one last time to willingly hurt themselves and each other via dangerous stunts and over-the-top pranks, all in the name of humor and friendship.
Since the original crew members are all in their late 40s to early 50s, the fact that they are getting old heavily plays into the movie. Granted, they’re not elderly, but they’re much older than they were when they started jackass, and they frequently comment on how their bodies can’t take as much punishment as before, some 20 years ago. It leads to introspection and a need to bring in some younger cast members for the more insane stunts, leading Jackass Forever to be, at times, a surprisingly reflective film on nostalgia and the pitfalls of middle-age… in between all the bodily fluids and wince-inducing violent stunts, of course.
The ‘Seven Up’ Series (1964-2019)
the Seven Up films began in 1964 with a short documentary that interviewed a group of seven-year-old school children in the UK. every seven years, Michael Apted, the film’s director, would check in on the children (who soon became adults), interviewing them about how their lives had or hadn’t changed. The latest installment was in 2019, 63 Upwhere the interviewees were now — as the title suggests—- 63 years old.
Apted passed away in 2021, putting the future of the series in doubt (plus, one of the main interviewees has also passed away, too). But across nine installations, covering a total of 55 years, the people who started as kids in 1964 grew up, becoming older and older as the series continued. As such, few documentaries show the realities of growing up (and eventually growing old) the way the Seven Up films do. Even if 63 Up stands as the last one, the series remains a remarkable achievement in documentary filmmaking.
‘Make Way For Tomorrow’ (1937)
Released over 80 years ago, Make Way For Tomorrow is an old movie about old people. It depicts an elderly couple struggling to get by during the Great Depression, and the way their younger family members’ reluctance to truly help only makes things more complicated.
It’s a brutally honest film for its time, and even today, it still has the potential to devastate modern moviegoers. It’s a sympathetic portrayal of what can happen to the elderly during a difficult time in history. It encourages viewers to be compassionate to the elderly while also laying bare life’s difficulties for someone in their twilight years.
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