‘Aging’ at the Movies: Not Just Entertainment

‘Aging’ at the Movies: Not Just Entertainment

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Our traditional notions of retirement make no financial sense in this 21st century – and a new film that brings this home, just in time for the start of summer, is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The star-studded cast of aging Brits – or pensioners – take us on a funny, if bittersweet, ride through western India, reminding those of us over 40 that we, too, are on a rickshaw ride into the unknown.

If we are obdurate or myopic enough to insist on retiring at the same age as our parents or grandparents did, then we might have to outsource our golden years to a place where the dollar, euro, yen, or pound sterling carries inflated weight.

RELATED: The Economic Promise of Aging Populations

In the film, seven British seniors head to Rajasthan for one of two reasons: Either they can’t afford to retire in the UK, or they need medical treatment they can’t get from UK National Health Service, challenged as it is by aging demographics. Not only are both scenarios increasingly common, they place the driving tension of the movie well ahead of the political curve.

With lifespans extending a full three decades beyond what they did a generation ago, the emerging crop of retirees will face this very situation: What to do when traditional retirement schemes can’t be supported by today’s fiscal realities? But perhaps these emigrating Brits take solace in their departure, joined by the deteriorating economies of Greece, Spain, and even the Netherlands.

Director John Madden confronts the serious question facing 450 million baby boomers worldwide through a light-hearted comedy. But do Madden’s intentions go deeper? While the sweet comedy leaves audiences smiling for most of its two-hour run, the film also forces us to examine our own lives through the new economic tensions that make this movie possible. Imagine how absurd the premise would have seemed just two decades ago.

This isn’t the only recent film to throw traditional schemes of retirement into question, of course. The Hollywood movie factory is also in on the game. In addition to last year’s Oscars that seemed like an AARP awards ceremony, there’s the recent, if awful, film Red, starring Morgan Freeman, Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren. Red, which stands for “retired and extremely dangerous,” follows a group of retirees who were once the CIA’s top agents but are now “the agency’s top targets.”

The film certainly has some bad one-liners! Morgan Freeman announces to his aging buddies, upon surviving a “hit” on him at his old-age home, “I may be retired, but I’m not dead.” And, later on, he quips: “We’re getting the band back together” when referring to the once-elite team of CIA agents. Then there is the cute if-ever-so-true line from Helen Mirren’s character. When asked, “How did you make the transition to retirement?” she answers, “I love it. I love the baking, the flower arrangements. I do get a bit restless. I take the odd contract on the side. You can’t just switch and become someone else.”

Like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Red is a movie that only makes sense in a world undergoing the most dramatic demographic transformation in human history. Quite purposefully, it makes a provocative argument: The retirement schemes of all professions, but especially those mandated by federal law, do not fit within new models of life that enjoy health and activity into the 60s, 70s, and 80s. And with more people over 60 than under the age of14 by mid-century, the challenge is definitely not fictional.

As Red suggests, retirees still have much to contribute, and those who are replacing them in the workforce cannot match their experience and expertise. Across all sectors of business, traditional models of retirement are as relevant today as Technicolor.

If you want a sweet and generous movie, go see the one about “outsourcing old age.” If you want a fun, special-effects-driven action flick, check out Red. Either way, they both bring dramatically to the fore the most profound transformational change of our time – the demographic shift to an aging world, with two billion of us over the age of 60 by mid century. If the 20th century was about the children, our 21st century is about seniors – some perhaps tooling around Jaipur on their mopeds, discovering new ways to live for the last 30 years of the centenarian lifespan.

Executive director of the Global Coalition on Aging, Michael W. Hodin, Ph.D., is also managing partner at High Lantern Group and a fellow at Oxford University's Harris Manchester College.