Reviews

'How to Live Forever', If You Really Feel You Must

While Mark Wexler’s pursuit of immortality takes him all over the world, extending one’s life emerges as a peculiarly Western, and especially American, obsession.


How to Live Forever

Director: Mark Wexler
Cast: Jack Lalanne, Ray Kurzweil, Suzanne Somers, Ray Bradbury, Phyllis Diller, Willard Scott
Distributor: Docurama
Rated: Not rated
Year: 2010
Release date: 2012-06-05

From biogerontology, laughter yoga, and small molecule drugs to the Ms. Senior America pageant and neurobics, How to Live Forever documents the science, pseudoscience, lifestyle coaching, and gimmickry of the longevity movement. Director Mark Wexler also offers a generational and personal perspective on the subject, through a candid view of aging Baby Boomers’ struggles with mortality, and his own mid-life crisis triggered by the death of his mother.

While Wexler’s pursuit of immortality takes him all over the world, extending one’s life emerges as a peculiarly Western, and especially American, obsession. For the first time in history, it seems, people who aren’t completely delusional believe that lengthening the human lifespan by tens if not hundreds of years is within reach, and many want to join the anti-aging vanguard.

Among them are biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey, a former computer scientist, and the irritatingly ubiquitous inventor Ray Kurzweil. Both embrace a mechanistic view of life—de Grey declares aging to be “a repair and maintenance problem”—and in the cocksure belief that scientists will soon engineer the elusive elixir of youth, both ignore the philosophical and environmental ramifications of large numbers of people exceeding their threescore years and ten.

Surgeon and author Sherwin Nuland calls “life extenders” like de Grey narcissistic, and speaks of the debt we owe to future generations to shuffle off this mortal coil on schedule. He’s drowned out by the slogans and catchphrases of the true believers. “The good old days are this second!” cries fitness guru Jack LaLanne, still clad in his signature jumpsuit, as he leads Wexler through a routine of restorative power walking. “Hormones are the juice of youth!” effuses a creepily perky Suzanne Somers, who ingests a battery of them every day. “Not just designer babies, but designer Baby Boomers”, Kurzweil lectures. (The idea of an immortal Kurzweil fills me with dread.) At least LaLanne admits he’s a salesman.

It all takes a toll on poor Wexler, whose emersion in what Dr. Ron Klatz calls “the anti-aging marketplace” renders him desperately aware of his own age and diminishing capacities. What really rattles Wexler, and here the 50-something expresses the quintessential Boomer fear, is becoming “uncool”.

Wexler’s interviews with the aged, though they offer mixed messages on the secret to a long life, comprise the best sequences of the film. Zenei Nakamura, 92, an Okinawan fisherman, still works in the traditional way, setting his nets in a wetsuit and goggles, without the benefit of scuba gear. Cardio-thoracic surgeon Ellsworth Wareham, 94, continues to scrub in every day, relishing the social interaction of the operating room. Pugnacious Buster Martin, 101, who works washing vans for a London plumbing company, enjoys a pint and a smoke, runs marathons, and performs in an a cappella rock group. All three exhibit remarkable physical health and mental acuity.

The other side of 100 is less uplifting. Frail Edna Parker of Shelbyville, Indiana, at 115 the world’s oldest human when the film was made—understands some of Wexler’s questions, but mostly babbles to herself as she sits in a wheelchair in her retirement home.

It falls to Wexler’s good friend, travel writer and novelist Pico Iyer, to help the director emerge from his funk. Echoing Nuland’s critique of de Grey and others, Iyer sees the desire for longevity as a “craving” analogous to the indulgent behavior of a child who can’t accept limits, and he encourages Wexler to acknowledge his.

Poet and funeral director Thomas Lynch wonders if artists don’t strive to create enduring works of art so that they can be sure something 'of them' will outlive them. Wexler closes How to Live Forever with this ancient, sobering, yet comforting notion. He moves towards accepting mortality—his own and his mother’s—when he decides to go through a storage container full of his mother’s things, including a number of her canvases. Shots of his mother’s paintings, many quite beautiful, provide the backdrop to the credit sequence. It’s a tacit rejection of the life-extenders and an invitation for viewers to make their own peace with death. Take heed, Boomers.

DVD extras include extended interviews and a few sequences with people who didn’t make the final cut of How to Live Forever, including Michael Palin, who eloquently praises the “uneventful” life, one full of work and purpose. We also learn that Kurzweil takes 150 supplements a day, in an effort to survive until science can preserve him indefinitely for the enrichment of future generations.

6

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image