(B)oth Citizen Kane and Tokyo Story symbolize the essence of years misplaced. They argue that the wistful memories of the past only propagate disappointment in the present.
Call it bigotry or some manner of predetermined prejudice, but cinema seems to steer clear of the elderly. No, old people appear in many movies, their recognition often reduced to inappropriate humor, dramatis catalyst, or handkerchief fodder. In fact, film fails the oldster so frequently that when a movie comes along which celebrates or deconstructions such maturity—Cocoon, Away from Her, Michael Haneke’s Amour—we tend to go overboard with our praise. The problem, of course, is that the current cinephile demographic, a contingency made up of online know-it-alls, wannabe journalists, and stuck-in-the-mud stalwarts, don’t support stories that center on the aged. Instead, they tend to bray with the herd, harrumphing over the constant bows to youth while championing same in reviews and mainstream retrospect.
So it’s interesting that as we move toward the top of the Sight & Sound‘s Best Films list for 2012 (both the general and the directors’ selections), we find two films at number three that focus almost exclusively on the end of life. In the perennial pick for Greatest of All Time—Citizen Kane—we watch as a dying man utters some mysterious last words. The rest of the film is a quasi-mystery remade as part character study, part epic example of the American dream in disarray. Charles Foster Kane, our William Randolph Hearst substitute, grows from a boy of privilege to a mighty newspaperman. Along the way, he learns that money doesn’t solve problems, that friendship can’t be finagled or bought, and that love comes quickly and exits just as quietly. In between, power and corruption lead to loneliness. By the finale, our elderly icon is wandering his massive mansion, depressed and defeated.