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What Sequestration Means for Elders

No Happy Endings

Remember last year's Marigold or, more formally, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel? It was a joyful romp of a film with a cast of long-lived, professional actors who can't be beat – the best of the best of the Brits - that gave us a few easily palatable truths about old age without threatening the movie's upbeat intentions.

Marigold was nominated for a fair number of awards but won few.

A new, old people movie, Amour, has already won a slew of lesser awards and is up for five Oscars next Sunday – all top tier: best picture, best actress, best director, best screenplay and best foreign language film. (It is in French with subtitles.)

With Lincoln and Argo in the mix this year, it is doubtful that Amour will pick up statuettes for any of those big categories except, perhaps, foreign film.

Too bad. But it may be that Amour needs no awards. The film already feels like it will – or already has – become a classic to be viewed now and again over a long period of time.

I had been counseled by some that it might be too hard to watch and just about every reviewer, while praising the film, also warned off their readers: “shocking,” they wrote, “scary,” “disturbing,” “a true horror story.”

Au contraire. It is life. The movie is exactly right about what often happens at the end. Anyone who has cared for a loved one knows there is no way writer/director Michael Haneke could have made this film without having experienced it.

Certainly, Haneke has lived Georges' aching, exhausting devotion to his beloved whose body and mind are failing until she becomes no more than a mewling infant in an adult's worn-out shell. And yet Georges goes on because – because that is what amour is until, in his case, he can no longer endure.

I watched Amour over this past long weekend three times – twice back-to-back in four hours and again after letting a day go by. It is no less searing for being repeated in that time frame while it also grows more haunting, more beautiful, more important.

Many of us at this blog have lived this story with a spouse sometimes or with a parent or someone else we love deeply. For me, it was my mother, and I cannot know how it is different for those with the private, shared history of decades of marriage, each such relationship unique unto itself, something outsiders cannot understand.

What I do know is that every moment of the daily details of Amour are true and real and honest. I was not shocked, as some critics, with the subject. What surprised me, though, was Georges doing exactly the things I did when caring for my mother as she was dying.

It is stupid, of course, but somehow I had imagined those were individual to the two of us - cutting meat for her, tolerating her when she lashed out at me, her asking to see the photo albums, assisting her on the toilet.

Like what I came to feel then, the film portrays the banality of ordinary life that continues even at this tragic juncture that you want to be more meaningful. But as weary as you become, there are the bed to change and shopping to do while somehow tolerating the ceaseless despair that for this person you love with all your heart, this person who gives your own life meaning in ways you cannot count or maybe even know, there is only one overpoweringly grievous outcome.

It must be for that reason that some I have read say they “hate” this movie. But one, then, might as well hate birth for, without getting all existential on you, we each move through time and our mortality will not be denied.

The best of art – paintings, books, poems, plays, movies – help us stretch our consciousness beyond the conventional and simplistic. With Amour, Michael Haneke and his two stars, octogenarians Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, have done that and I am grateful to them.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Stroppy: The Park Bench


No thanks! I will pass on that one. Reality is bad enough without watching for entertainment. IMHO.

I see that Rotten Tomatoes rates "Amour" at 93%. I think I would like to watch it with a friend or my sisters. It would remind me very much of my Mother's last months and my Father's despair.

I saw it last weekend and could hardly sleep afterwards. It was profound, shocking, and beautiful. I am glad I saw it but feel it was way too real to watch again, so soon. I hope Riva wins! She deserves it.

That does it! I'm taking Helen to see it this weekend. We've wanted to, but it's a few miles away and we've kept putting it off. I hope that the subtitles don't get too much in the way. I've never liked them.

Ronni, I agree with everything you said about "Amour." It's devastating to watch and astonishingly well done. I don't know what we can do with such harsh truths except not hide from them,
and it's the artists, in this case actors and director, who best reveal them.

Ronni, Where did you watch the movie a number of times back to back??? In a theatre?

A friend who is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences lent me his screening copy.

This sounds like how I feel about seeing movies like Schindler's List - hard to see, but ultimately it should be seen.

I've had mixed thoughts about seeing Amour. I don't think I will, but it's not because I can't accept that this is indeed part of the cycle of life. I went through it with my mother, and I know that life endings are often like this. I am so very grateful that I was able to be there with my mother, but my emotions and sadness during that time remain with me ten years later when I think about it. It also produces anxiety and fear when I think about my own end of life. So I really believe I'm better off not seeing it, for my own mental well-being. But then I think maybe such a well acted movie would help.

I found this film very well made and extremely difficult to watch so sad...
Did you know that Emmanuelle Riva was in that marvelous French film Hiroshima Mon Amour when she was young.

Were I in charge -- I would give every possible award to this film, certainly for best picture, it is far superior, but also not only for the magnificent Riva but also the equally marvelous Trintignant. Michael Haneke has actually made a compassionate film. I don't really go to films to be "entertained," if that means being made happy -- maybe it is because I am equally satisfied with learning something, experiencing something that is beautifully made. By the way, the "lesser" awards include the top Cannes award. I sat between two somewhat younger friends, one looking frequently at his watch and tapping his foot, the other weeping copiously.. They are both good friends, and, despite the different reactions, were deeply moved and appreciative.
Thank you for your comments, Ronni. As another [younger] friend said to me, she had read that everyone over 30 should see Amour, but she thought everybody should! When has there been such an honest portrayal of old age and illness? Hollywood seems in contrast to want to see old age as amusing or as admirable if one presents oneself as "young" in spite of old age.

Thanks, and there is another new film out about aging too.

I keep believing that death itself is not a grievous outcome, at least not for the one who dies. I think it is often not one for the survivor, though he or she may grieve for some time before emerging. To me death is the end of our deep contradictions and terrors, our return to the nature that does what it does without wondering if it is okay. I also think of death as the release of individual consciousness into the shared consciousness of humanity, and possibly into the source of consciousness in the universe--which I can only guess at. I do not look forward to the difficulties that precede dying, but death seems like a blissful outcome. I am 81 but I thought this even as a child and all through my life.

To Renee Watkins,
Thank you for that meaningful comment. I feel exactly the same way although I could not have expressed it nearly as well.
I will be 85 next month and
have seen and taken care of father, mother, uncle and husband. While it was at times heartbreaking I have never been sorry I did it.
In fact I am very grateful.
They knew I loved them.
However I do dread having my daughters take care of me!
I am praying for a quick and non-messy end!
A meaningful and lovely film.

I don't think I'll be seeing this film, although based on what I've read/heard, I'm sure it's excellent. Like Renee and NWD, I fervently hope to avoid a long-drawn-out and ridiculously expensive end of life and have done some research on the subject. My husband and I are in agreement that we do not want his (or anyone else's) adult child assisting us on the toilet for any significant length of time, if at all! My view? If I am incapacitated to the point that I can no longer attend to my own basic bodily needs and there is no hope that my condition will improve, I am no longer "living". I am merely existing.

Sounds good, but pretty intense. You gotta be in the right mood. I just read about Cheryl Strayed's experience with her mother dying in her book "Wild." So I think I'll wait a while to see Amour -- but I do want to watch it at some point.

I saw the movie tonight. It just reinforces my fervent desire to die before I get into such a state. Past a certain age we should all be able to get an escape kit from our physician.

Lucky You, Ronni...for having a friend to loan you the tape so that you can watch in your leisure.
It's on my list this week. Thanks for sharing.

If someone did a survey of elders about reactions to the film "Amour" and tabulated the findings by sex of respondent, I'd bet on the women voting 5:1 "favorable" and men 9 out of 10 unfavorable.
I think women enjoy a good cry at the movies (AKA "tearjerker") a lot more than men. It's just one of the things that separates the sexes. Vive la difference!

Amour cannot be dismissed as a tearjerker - a word that connotes cheap sentiment intended to manipulate superficial emotion.

Amour is opposite.

I went to see this movie with a friend who had recently loss her mom and who had experienced the loss of an elderly parent through me, since I home-cared my mom. I thought this movie was beautifully filmed and acted. However, we both found Amour depressing. My mother's passing was a high moment, not at all depressing. Death in Amour is. But it makes its point well. What upset me the most is that society acts as if end of life does not exist and does nothing to facilitate it. Perhaps this will change as more people see them movie now that it has won the Academy Award.

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