When older adults are portrayed in the movies, how are they often characterized? Are they healthy, vibrant and enjoying life, or does Hollywood tend to dwell on the negative side of aging – memory loss and mobility issues. While some movies do a good job of portraying aging accurately, others use aging as a comedic tool or to simply reinforce societal stereotypes.
“Memory loss is very prevalent in movies. Often, older adult characters in movies reflect negative stereotypes that society has. But there are a growing number of movies that do a good job,” said Dr. Alisa McArthur, associate professor, Psychology at St. Mary’s University in Calgary.
Dr. McArthur is a movie buff. She looks at movies from a psychological perspective, with a focus on how older adults are portrayed.
“Besides the portrayal of memory loss, often an older adult is shown as grumpy or having mobility issues. While some of this is true, movies tend to deal in extremes. Either a person is very healthy or very frail.”
Dr. McArthur is holding several presentations at United’s Fish Creek community entitled, “Aging Through the Camera: How Older Adults are Portrayed in Movies“. Over the course of three weeks, residents watch three different movies, followed by discussions around how older adults are portrayed in general, in friendships, in romantic relationships, and in family relationships.
The first week, residents watched Quartet, a 2012 movie directed by Dustin Hoffman. The premise is that a once-popular opera diva, played by Maggie Smith, moves into a community for retired performers.
“They did a fairly nice job of showing the diversity that exists within an aging population,” she said. “It was also nice that they highlighted some positives, but also portrayed that getting older is not always ‘fun’.”
Fish Creek community resident Ray Waldock agrees. “I think they did a good job of portraying older adults who have moved to a new place and situation. It’s a new way to look at life, which is something that we are also doing here at Fish Creek.”
Dr. McArthur’s classes at St. Mary’s also discuss aging stereotypes. “It’s surprising to young people when I tell them that I’m the same person I’ve always been. I still think of myself as being in my early 20s, and that doesn’t change as you get older. We see ourselves as younger than our chronological age.”
This week residents watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a majority of characters are older adults. The final session will look at one of two movies – Trouble with the Curve, a Clint Eastwood moving about an aging baseball scout, or The Intern, starring Robert DeNiro as an older adult who returns to work as an intern.
The whole subject of how older adults are portrayed in movies should be studied further said Dr. McArthur. “I’d like to do this again. The reactions and discussions that follow are very interesting. Watching movies and then discussing them afterwards can be very powerful.”
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