Just the Way Life Goes
“Kings Point is a place to be where you’re not alone,” says Jane. “You’re alone, but you’re not alone. There are people around, and there’s always something to do.” As she speaks, you watch Jane dance, first in a tap class, and then poolside with a group of other seniors, all smiles. “When a widow is a widow, she’s got to do things to keep her busy,” Jane adds, “else she’ll die.”
Living in a Delray, Florida retirement community since her husband Manny passed away, Jane is one of several subjects in the Oscar-nominated documentary short Kings Point, premiering on HBO 11 March. Along with the other residents, she fills her time with “activities,” dancing and playing mahjong, watching TV. Still, the film reveals, life can be complicated, you can feel alone when you’re not alone. And you can see how people around you feel, too. Laughing with her friend Frank, Jane listens as he cautions that Bea, his current roommate, is “gonna be mad at me.” “She’s afraid she’s going to lose you,” Jane notes. “I’m not looking to date Jane,” Frank explains, his arm around her. “I could love her too, but it’s not what I want, what I’m looking for, long range.”
The question is laced throughout Kings Point, what anyone might be “looking for.” In interviews and observations, the film shows individuals struggling with what it means to have friends, missing their families, watching people they know pass on. For living in a retirement community means living with death, wondering—consciously or not—how long anyone’s “range” might be, how long any friendship can last. “When you were younger, you made friends, friends, friends. When you came to Florida,” says Mollie. “You made acquaintances and good acquaintances. Not ‘friends friends.’ They’re just not here anymore. At this stage, you’re not making friends.”
The difference has to do with time, how you measure it and what you can expect from it. Days are structured by routines. In the morning, a series of frames show color-coded recycling bins, sprinklers dousing a browning lawn, a bench outside the Monaco Clubhouse where a man in sunglasses and sneakers sits with his grocery bags, gazing back at the camera. Inside, ladies play cards, the camera close on their mouths, their lips pursed and pink.
Asked whether she might “fall in love again,” Mollie expresses doubts (“At 70, no, definitely not, I don’t think the feelings are there anymore”), while Gert explains the difference between love and need. “Some ladies,” she says, “They’ve got to have a male companion wherever they go. One croaks, they’ve got another one waiting.” She leans toward her off-screen interviewer for emphasis: “If you’re one of these old guys, they won’t take care of you. They can’t. They need someone to take care of them.” Gert adds that she takes care of herself “very nicely,” underlining an idea at the center of the film. At once subtle and intimate, Kings Point doesn’t cite numbers, but it appears that the population at Kings Point is mostly female. “It’s not that it’s frightening,” Mollie says, looking out her window. “This is just the way life goes, but you don’t know what you want to do.” Staying at Kings Point is one less than ideal option, as is moving in with your kids. “It’s not the best thing either, they have their own lives, you have your life.”
You do and you don’t. Proliferating retirement communities and assisted living facilities are now an industry as much as they are a function of evolving political and cultural choices. But they’re premised on limits, as much as they advertise otherwise. Mollie talks about her teenaged grandsons coming to visit, for four or five days, maybe 10 days. “By the end of the time,” she says, “they’re pulling the hair out of their heads because there really is nothing for them to do here.” This means that she misses “a lot of their lives,” their relationships shaped, again, by time—short visits and longer lives.
Though Kings Point doesn’t make a case for the better olden days, it does raise questions about the multiple costs of warehousing old people today. It’s not just that Gert or Mollie has insurance to pay for her home in Florida, it’s that their children are spending their lives elsewhere, and their grandchildren are growing up without them. Watching Spencer and David parked on her beige couch in front of the television, their heads bent over videogames, you wonder what they do at home that’s so different from this.
If the boys’ disconnection from their grandmother seems obvious, even a joke because it’s so familiar by now, the film makes another point here, both keen and alarming. Generational differences are one thing, but learning to live in and as communities, with connections among individuals, is another. Segregating generations from one another is a business, lucrative and expanding. It’s impossible to know how the widows and widowers at Kings Point lived before, but as they describe how it feels to be living alone, you see that this isn’t only because they’re here.