Sunday, May 08, 2011

“How To Live Forever” – Movie Review



This weekend, my movie class had a bonus screening of the documentary “How To Live Forever” by Mark Wexler. 



A documentarian turns his camera on longevity, asking elderly people how they managed to live so long and posing the question how long do we want to live?



Documentary filmmaker Mark Wexler was inspired to make this film several years ago when he received his AARP card in the mail shortly before his 50th birthday.  A watershed moment for him, this basically stopped him in his tracks because it forced him to come to the realization that not only was he aging, but also, he had to confront his own mortality.  It was with this in mind that he wondered about exactly how long he wanted to live.  Did he want to live forever?  What does it take to live a long life?  Could he thwart his own genetics to live to be over 100? 

Opening at a mortician’s convention in – of all places! – Las Vegas, we see the many technological advances that have been introduced to the profession for how to best deal with death.  This then immediately raises the question about when should death be expected?  We’ve seen people die in their 70’s or 80’s and believe that they may have lived a long, full life, but is that really something which we should consider a long life?  What is called into question here is the aspect of longevity – what is it and how to reach it?  Certainly, we like to think that we know this, but are the so-called “Baby Boomers” ready to go softly into that good night? 

Wexler winds up traveling not only throughout the United States, but around the world as well.  In his travels, he finds that Okinawa, Japan has many residents in their 90’s and even over 100 years of age – as a matter of fact, one of these women proposes to him!  What makes these people live so long?  Well, for one thing, it’s certainly their low-calorie diet, but for another, it’s their level of activity – not merely physical exercise, but also, mental activity as well.  These people have something to live for, something that makes them want to wake up and get out of bed in the morning – they are mentally, spiritually and physically fully engaged in their own life.  Among the people he meets is a 75 year old Japanese porn star!  In England, he meets Buster – a man who believes that a steady job leads to a stead life.  Buster, like some of the people Wexler meets, drinks, smokes and does other things that contradict his so-called “healthy” life – yet, they have lived for many years.  Is Wexler’s traditional concept of a healthy lifestyle wrong or are these people merely some kind of mutants?  



Mark Wexler is the son of acclaimed Hollywood cinematographer Haskell Wexler.  Raised believing his father was a film icon, he made the documentary “Tell Them Who You Are” as a tribute to him.  Likewise, you could say that Mark Wexler made “How To Live Forever” to similarly pay tribute to his mother, an equally talented artist, whose paintings burned in a house fire years before her death – but in a strange way, contributed to her mental and emotional downfall which ultimately resulted in her death.  Was this what the filmmaker was trying to tell us?  Is intellectual engagement in life the most vital thing to living a long life?

While it might be so, Wexler’s documentary vacillates between actual documentary and sometimes mockumentary that it sometimes may be hard to tell whether or not it should be taken seriously.  Although the film is at times genuinely funny, it is also equally as sad because occasionally, some of the interviewees cannot quite grasp exactly what it is that has allowed them to live so long and – in some cases, at least – live so productively.  Periodically, Wexler turns the camera on himself in what appears to be comic attempts that sometimes succeed, but not consistently enough to merit calling this film a complete success. 

Both before and after the screening, Wexler was interviewed by the instructor.  Although personable, he is not humorous enough to cause genuine, spontaneous laughter in his discourse, which was a telltale downfall in his documentary.  At times, the film seems to want to take itself seriously by interviewing scientists, writers and physicians – yet it is somewhat schizophrenic in the sense that it also appears to wish to strike humorous tones, which results in its ultimate message to be somewhat muddled.  Wexler spoke about how his experience making this film caused him to make certain changes in his own life and also talked about some of the subjects in the film and how life after the shoot went for them. 


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