Movies are one of the most remarkable ways to experience life in other countries, other cultures and throughout history. Whether you’re transported to A.D. 26 watching Ben Hur or to other galaxies through the Star Wars films, movies can take you out of your world and into another for a couple of hours, a bowl of popcorn by your side.
However, another reason to watch movies is to see ourselves reflected back at us, to help us understand who – and where – we are in our lives. For older adults, it can be hard to find movies that represent aging with beauty and depth or give them a glimpse into the lives of others their age. A great movie that helps older adults to understand who they are can be motivating and reassuring.
Birgit Wolf, PhD, MFT, who facilitates cinema therapy groups, said, “Cinema therapy can be a powerful catalyst for healing and growth for anybody who is open to learning how movies affect us and to watching certain films with conscious awareness. Cinema therapy allows us to use the effect of imagery, plot, music, etc. in films on our psyche for insight, inspiration, emotional release or relief, and natural change.”
With or without therapy, watching a movie that makes you think, feel and gain insight into yourself or those you love is a beautiful experience.
These are some of the best movies that portray aging with grace, beauty and humor.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)
A group of seven older British citizens arrives at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in Jaipur, India, where they can more easily afford to live comfortably than in England. They’re surprised that the hotel is dilapidated, and the young proprietor is in over his head. Despite their initial misgivings, each new resident finds a way to adapt to their new surroundings, including finding love and a new career, and rekindling old romances. The fabulous cast, including Academy Award winner Maggie Smith, Academy Award winner Judi Dench, and Bill Nighy, makes this movie one not to miss. For older adults, the message is that it’s never too late to start again.
Cocoon’s mix of science fiction, fantasy and optimism begins with a trio of friends, played by Don Ameche (who won an Academy Award for this film), Wilford Brimley and Hume Cronyn. They stumble upon alien pods in a swimming pool, which they then sneak into their senior living community next door. It turns out these pods have rejuvenating qualities that allow them to act and feel like men far younger. They become involved with the aliens (in human form), who allow them to continue swimming with the pods. Eventually, many residents find their way to the pool. When the alien leaders offer to take the older residents back to their planet, many accept and leave behind their families and friends. The question to consider after watching Cocoon is: Would you give up your loved ones and the life you know for eternal youth in a place you’ve never been?
On Golden Pond (1981)
This story about the complicated relationships between fathers and daughters, the scary onset of memory loss, and the enduring love of a long-married couple who accept each other’s faults without reservation is one of the all-time great movies about getting old. Academy Award winner Jane Fonda, her father Henry Fonda (who won an Academy Award for this film), and Academy Award winner Katherine Hepburn portray a daughter and her parents whose relationship has been complicated and emotionally challenging. Henry Fonda’s Norman, a man of old-school values, challenged by the arrival of his daughter’s boyfriend and her son at his lake cottage, can make anyone – of any age – understand the frustration and isolation of getting older and enduring memory lapses.
Our Souls at Night (2017)
Unlike “On Golden Pond,” when Jane Fonda was a youthful 45, in this film, based on the book by Kent Haruf, she portrays an older widow (Addie). Her next-door neighbor, a lonely widower, is played by Academy Award winner Robert Redford. The two embark on an unexpected relationship and become, in their small town, the object of much scrutiny and gossip, though they don’t care. Their idyllic romance is interrupted by the arrival of Addie’s grandson, which seems at first to be a problem but becomes a wonderful addition to their makeshift family. The story of finding true love later in life is told with a gentle touch, and the resulting complications brought on by family responsibilities leave you cheering for them at the end.
Queen Bees (2021)
This upbeat movie stars Academy Award winner Ellen Burstyn (Helen), who reluctantly moves to a senior living community for what she sees as a temporary stay after accidentally setting fire to her home. She finds out quickly it’s not much different from high school—complete with cliques, mean girls and women who quickly become her best friends. While there, she meets Dan, played by James Caan, and they fall in love. Queen Bees is a good film to watch with someone who lives in a senior community or is considering moving to one.