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May 17, 2016

How to Live Forever

by Franz Patrick


How to Live Forever (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Every time a person asks me why I go to the gym regularly when I’m “not even fat,” a part of me is sort of baffled by the question. If it comes from a relative, a friend, or an acquaintance, I joke around by saying I want to live a long time so I can watch many more movies.

But there is truth in jest in that I do want to live for as long as I am allowed to be here. While a part of it is looking fit on the outside, I find that exercising makes me feel good inside. With so many people who have avoidable health problems, especially at such a young age, I’m surprised that not many more people choose and maintain to be motivated in leading a more physically active life.

After the death of his mother, Mark S. Wexler, the director, just above fifty years old, goes on a worldwide search of learning the secrets of having a long life. He interviews many older folks, from Ms. Senior America contestants to Japanese fishermen, to figure out what it is that makes them so full of energy despite their age. Wexler even gets a chance to interview the oldest person in the world at the time, Edna Parker, a hundred fifteen years old, according to Guinness World Records.

There is no doubt that the subject is interesting, but the documentary lacks organization. For example, we spend a few minutes in Okinawa, then it jumps to Edinburgh for a moment, back to the U.S. just as quickly, and then we are back in Japan. Since the picture is not arranged in recognizable and defined chapters, most of the time the information are presented in a cluttered manner. As a result, when it arrives at an important point, its impact is lessened because oftentimes we are still thinking about a question not necessarily related to what is currently on screen at the time.

The film should have been trimmed in order to be more focused. While footages shot in a funeral directors’ convention in Las Vegas left me confused as to what it hopes to convey about the secrets of old age, Wexler speaking to a medium made me wrinkle my brows in disbelief. While the former is frustrating because it summons questions—like the fear of death—outside of the picture’s thesis, the latter made me feel like the material is neither professional nor really all that serious about the “secrets” of aging.

The director does visit a few fascinating places, one of which is a high school classroom. In order for the students to get a glimpse of how it is like to be old, their teacher instructs them to apply Vaseline on their glasses and wear them for the remainder of the class; put rocks in their shoes and walk in it; and apply duct tape around their knees so their joints will feel like they have less control. While it is a fun and funny exercise, just the looks that appeared on the students’ faces and the way they moved tell plenty. It is the right move to not have to interview them afterwards.

We observe a lot of older folks, over ninety and a hundred years old, engaging in all sorts of physical activities, eating healthy food, maintaining a positive outlook on life, and, yes, even smoking and drinking. The film offers no solution or instruction on how to live a long life—and I thought that was never really the goal. Instead, it offers possibilities, introduces some theories and scientific research, poses interesting questions (if a pill allows you to live for five hundred more years, would you take it?), and hopes to inspire others to look for answers that work for oneself.

I argue that “How to Live Forever” is a more effective commercial than it is a documentary. I found it odd that the director chose not to show centenarians who are not so strong and fit—those confined in their beds, just waiting for the end. I say that it is a “commercial” in that it tends to focus mostly on the positives while filtering out many of the negatives: the frustration, the pain, the loneliness of aging.

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