Thursday, February 6, 2014

Last Vegas: Celebrating Immaturity?

I'm very interested in how Hollywood represents older adults.  Consequently, I've watched well over 100 films featuring people from late midlife on.

I ask myself while viewing these films, "How do these films hold up ideals for the viewing public? What roles do older adults play in our society?  What struggles do they have? What strengths do they have to offer in solving their own  problems and helping others to solve theirs?"

When I learned that Last Vegas (2013) was released on DVD, I rented it, eager to see how Douglas, De Niro, Freeman and Kline portray childhood friends reuniting for a bachelor party.

Giving the setting and the occasion, I should have expected this glorification of pleasure. But I was still disappointed.  It looked like a frat boy outing.

Is this what men in their late sixties dream about?  Frolicking at the pool, in nightclubs, and in penthouse suites with women young enough to be their grandchildren?   Drinking, dancing, gambling?

I never was a big partier in the first place, but as a woman in her fifties, I find the pursuit of pleasure to be shallow at best. More realistically, it's a waste of time, money and energy.

I didn't marry until I was in my mid-thirties, and by then, I was full sick of my independence, bloated with my narcissism, and bored with the idea of "having fun" as my single focus. I was more than ready for interdependence with my new husband, eager to nurture our future children, and willing to spend my energy creating resources through hard work rather than depleting them through the pursuit of pleasure.

I was sure to stagnate, rot, and become a grotesque caricature worthy to be mocked if I stayed one minute longer in the world of young adulthood.

Yes, the film Last Vegas had a little hat tipping to more mature endeavors: Kline's character decides not to sleep with a twentysomething out of loyalty to his wife, and Douglas' character dumps his thirty-one-year-old fiance for Mary Steenburgen's character. (Actors Douglas and Steenburger are only 9 years apart.)  But these scenes total less than 10 minutes out of the film's 105 minute total. Instead of depicting mature behavior, the majority of the film focuses on these sixtysomething men partying hard with dozens of young adults.

I didn't know people that old could be that immature. I found it ridiculous and depressing.

I have much more admiration for mature men who spend their time nurturing the generations below them rather than exploiting youth for their own pleasure.  Maybe I'm boxing them in, but I believe our communities need older men to act as teachers, mentors, advisers, guides and sages.

As a palate cleanser to this film, I recommend Jimmy Carter's The Virtues of Aging for a description of how he and other older adults spend their time strengthening others through volunteer work. I also admire the work of Ram Dass (82) and Thich Nhat Hanh (age 87).

For more examples of mature men and women giving back to their communities, check out the Purpose Prize winners from Encore, an organization that supports and celebrates people who choose a late life career that is more about purpose than paycheck. Here is the 2008 winner, Jock Brandis, former actor and filmmaker who created the Full Belly Project, which helps people in third world countries by his inventions that reduce the labor required to harvest food.

Undoubtedly, even mature men need to some recreation--dancing with cherished friends, sex embedded in a meaningful, committed relationship, a delicious healthy meal, and so on--as a way to regenerate and achieve balance.   But I was just dumbfounded to think that older men primarily want to stay forever in one life stage: youth with its hyperfocus on the individual, blind to the needs of children or elders and unconcerned with building community.

More than anything Las Vegas encourages me to cherish mature men (and women) who have fully embraced the opportunities that their age, wisdom and experience affords them.  Kudos to those who have their feet firmly planted in their present circumstances.


Movies about Mature Men Preserving Power
Films about Aging A-L


  1. Well, I wouldn't go to Hollywood to look for mature men doing responsible things. But aside from everything else, mature men doing responsible things is exactly what you want (and in large part what you get) in real life . . . but it doesn't always make for a great story.

    1. I guess it would be boring to watch a movie featuring some of my friends who are pillars of their communities: attending board meetings, doing volunteer work, watching grandkids, visiting older friends who have mobility problems, writing books, doing errands. But this one was so extreme in mixing up ages and stages of growth that I was just stunned.