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Friday, April 18, 2008

Mortality Bites. (23 Days Remaining...)

So I'm not usually the kind of guy that reviews movies - I watch a fair number but I'm not usually moved enough to want to write anything about them. Reviews are nice and all but I find that in most cases they're almost entirely subjective.

And yet here I am.

My girlfriend took me out last night for a little birthday treat, she'd managed to get passes to a documentary called Young @ Heart and absolutely forbade me from doing any research on it. I was to go into it cold, with only the knowledge that it was a documentary about a bunch of 80+ year olds in a traveling singing troupe.

Needless to say, based on that pitch I wasn't extremely excited to think of what I'd be doing with my birthday evening (instead of what I could be doing). But work ended and together we trekked across the city to the Varsity theater in the hopes that we'd make it there before all the seats were taken.

As I stepped into theater 8 the first thing that hit me was how diverse in age the audience was, followed by the fact that, at 6:30pm, the place was already PACKED. I mean it was an actual struggle to grab two seats off to the far Right.

I watched as the audience chatted back and forth, a few elderly couples actually turned around in their seats like school kids, hands waving in the throes of some sort of deep discussion.


You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you realize you might have horribly misjudged something? Yeah...

The room faded to black and an elderly lady - 93 year old Eileen Hall - stepped up to the mic and sent my mind reeling as her British school-marm voice belted out The Clash's "Should I stay or should I go?" to thunderous applause (both in the film and the theater).


I couldn't help but smile as the song played out, as this woman who could barely stand without the aid of a cane, rocked the mic better than some younger and more recent punk pretenders.

Now I'll try and be good and not stray into spoiler territory but suffice it to say that what unfolds over the next 107 minutes is quite possibly one of the most gripping experiences I've had in a cinema this year. It is, without a doubt one of the best films I've ever seen.

Yes, I know there's a lot of ways you can take a statement like that - and it's very easy to accept it on face value alone, it's... gushy. But, for me, there's something to that film that even now I can't get out of my head. That image of Fred Knittle, hooked to a portable oxygen machine -the cadence of the 'Pffts' of his inhales as he moans out Coldplay's "Fix You"; a veritable dirge to his fallen friends. This man, such an active, lovable character in the film - a wonderful mind reduced near to tears as he fights against a body that has betrayed him to the ravages of time.

It hurts.

Maybe it was the timing. There I am, now 28 years old, seeing a movie about people unwilling to let their faltering bodies hold them back from living. I'm watching these people, such colourful personalities, so full of life - and I realize that I want to BE them. I hope with all my might that should I live to be 90 that I'm anywhere near as cool as these people.

Then reality hits home. This isn't some script being read. These people are near the end of their life. And somehow that realization chills me to the bone.

I mean, I'm a pretty avid Horror fan. I see death on the screen all the time - hell, I watched Hostel and barely blinked. But, you see, I know its not real, I can disassociate myself from these movies - that girl getting her eye taken off with blowtorch is an actress and she'll be just fine the moment the director yells 'cut'.

But not these people. These happy, free-spirited people who just happen to be trapped in these sallow dens of flesh. Active minds that lived the last century long before it turned and yet kept rolling with it - who get confused over which side of a CD you're supposed to use but still somehow wrangle the internet. They weren't just fine.

And I felt it.

Even when I knew it was coming, even when my knowledge of structure and story and, hell, even the health of the person them self told me to be ready. When it happened, when that life - that personality - was ripped away, I felt it.

Hell, even now, as I write this, I can feel that sense of sadness - of having briefly met someone only to have it taken away. I'm not sure how, but somewhere out there in that sea of people, that movie found me and connected in a way that no film has ever done. I know this will sound weird but I think I came to a personal understanding of how the need for something like 'Heaven' can exist. The thought that all those memories, that life, that existence can just... disappear, never to return. It's heartbreaking, especially when you see that life lived out there before you in such a vivid way.

And yet, though I sat there in the darkness fighting tears, I walked out of that theatre feeling somehow cleansed. As if my chronological age no longer mattered, the newfound twinges in my shoulder and leg now inconsequential.

Even in my relative youth, I realize that there's that distant edge to the concept of death - that fear of the unknown in what's at the end. But this lively group of people, so close to that horizon, refused to let time and age conquer their spirits. Throughout the film they fought to be standing there on that stage at the end. And, in doing so, proved that while we don't get out of this life alive, you sure can go out in style.

Go see this film.



I've managed to find the video of Fred Nittle's version of "Fix You" and I'm linking it here. Even though it's not as powerful outside of the context of the movie, it's still a beautiful cover. I hope you enjoy it and then go see this film. It opens today in Toronto, you can follow this link and put in your Postal Code or Zip Code to see which theaters near you are playing it.

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