En español | Director Mark Wexler says three events, in quick succession, got him to thinking about mortality: His mother died, he turned 50 and his AARP card came in the mail.
Lucky for us Wexler channeled his energies into How to Live Forever, a wonderfully funny, thoughtful exploration of what it means to get older, the extremes to which people go to hold off the effects of aging … and the vexing question: How old is old enough?
Wexler visits a variety of members of the Century Club, including a 103-year-old woman who still lives by herself (and is shown frying up an egg for breakfast) and a chain-smoking, hard-drinking 101-year-old Brit who a year earlier made headlines by beating off two would-be muggers.
“I kicked them,” says Buster Martin matter-of-factly. “I’m sure they’ll never be a father.”
In an extended sequence, Wexler works out with fitness guru Jack LaLanne, who cheerfully chirps his oft-used line, “Jack LaLanne can’t afford to die. It’d wreck my image!” Of course, LaLanne did die last January at 96, not too long after he barked calisthenic orders to a hesitant Wexler (“Punch the ceiling! Don’t you know how to punch?”). But the knowledge of LaLanne’s subsequent passing doesn’t cast even a bittersweet shadow over the film. Oozing enthusiasm to the end, so eminently happy, LaLanne espouses a lifestyle not aimed at keeping us from dying — but instead at helping us keep living.
Here and there, celebrities pop up to weigh in. Phyllis Diller, Ray Bradbury and Willard Scott are all poster children for gracious aging (and aren’t you looking forward to the day when Willard is the Smucker’s centenarian of the day?). Speaking for boomers, Suzanne Somers drops by to plug hormone supplements for keeping the ol’ libido cranking.
Wexler does drop in on some scientists who dream of creating human immortality — guys who consume just 1,000 or so calories a day, or who plan to have themselves frozen in the hope of some future technology-driven resurrection day. Overall, they seem a little creepy, and the thought of living on a planet populated largely by the likes of them makes the prospect of eternal rest somehow more appealing. I much prefer the company of surgeon Sherwin Nuland, who tells Wexler, “It’s my obligation to everything that comes after me that I die within my allotted time.”
For boomers especially, How to Live Forever is the perfect film at the perfect moment. Just as they’re coming to terms with their own mortality, here comes Wexler asking all the right questions and eliciting a staggering range of thoughtful answers. In the end, the movie doesn’t really tell us how to live forever; but it does offer some healthy food for thought about how we’re living right now.