Quartet: Growing Old Sucks $#!%!

Is all we have to look forward to in our twilight years, the hope for a one last curtain call? This was a cute, whimsical, and serious movie all rolled into one with some wonderful characters, drawn out boring singing scenes, and a depressing ending that is supposed to be uplifting.

In this story about a retirement home for accomplished musicians, all the old folks are preparing to perform a concert for Verdi’s birthday. But trouble happens when a diva, played elegantly by the wonderful Maggie Smith, arrives and stirs up past hurts with her ex-husband who also lives there and has been trying to avoid her for the rest of his life.

I like movies that make me examine my life and make me question whether or not I am investing in what really matters. Therefore, I like movies about death and movies about people facing the end of their life. But this one didn’t deliver in the usual way. It pretty much backfired.

Here’s why:

First of all, Billy Connolly is the lovable comic relief of the ladies man who still can’t stop hitting on the young working women at the retirement home. But you get the sense that he was a desperate bid to bring some life to an otherwise drab bunch of old cranks, half wits and babblers. Now, you would think that would not be the case, because some of the characters are dramatic and others cute and eccentric, and they all had successful careers as musicians, and singers, which was supposed to have given them a life well lived. So the idea of a group of such people preparing for a concert to reprise their yesteryears would make one think it is a good high concept. Unfortunately, there were too many indulgent scenes of showing the singers and musicians practicing that it just got boring and FAST FORWARDSVILLE, baby. I think the director, Dustin Hoffman, suffered from his actor’s perspective of thinking we want to see the real life ex-musical artists he cast bathing in their younger glories and singing pretty well on screen. Not me. I want a good story.

But I don’t want to be too hard on this movie, because the main theme of a divorced couple finding forgiveness at the end of life for past infidelity had a note of grace and hopefulness, especially at the ending.

But the problem for me was that all the forgetfulness, all the declining body functions, all the cute and mindless or silly babbling people, and all the reminiscing and fantasizing about the good old days when they were somebody that surrounded the few people with their wits just made getting old look entirely undesirable and dreadful.

But isn’t that what you want, Brian? Didn’t I say that I like movies that make me examine my life, yada yada? Well, not if the hope that is presented is an illusory and fleeting recap of the humanist attempt to find meaning in what ultimately has no meaning. And that is what this movie lacked for me: Transcendence. It tries to find hope in a hopeless situation, and in so doing distracts us from our real need.

Rather than finding some hope in the midst of a sad reality in this story, I didn’t find any because apart from that forgiveness moment of husband and wife, the big context of the movie’s big theme was summed up in the ending shot after their also-boring performance of the Verdi concert. The people we saw struggling through their age issues end up with a “glorious” slo mo curtain call of happiness after their performance of a song together, giving one the impression that they ended well or that they were ending their life with a joyful curtain call so to speak.

But this is not satisfying because it is shallow and empty.

I am sorry, but the revelation of a life lived by seeking to be loved through performance, and glorying over great songs or experiences or moments of singing is precisely that flaw that needs to be redeemed, not reinforced. It is the delusion of all artists and entertainers, of which I am both, so I know of what I speak. At the end of my life, I know that I am not going to look back on my life and consider all the art I did and how great it made me feel and try to rekindle older fleeting moments of vanity and chasing after the wind. Because I know that all of it will turn to dust. I am not going to be thinking of any of that. I know I am going to be thinking did I know and walk with my Creator? Did I give my life away to others? Did I invest my life in the truth that transcends our muddled and painful existence? If there is nothing beyond this existence then all the performance is a delusion of denial to keep us from facing the truth that none of it has lasting effect. It will mock us at our death. It will not be a curtain call, it will be a Satanic horror movie where reality is the opposite of our delusions and it will damn us.

I write about this very Ecclesiastes-like theme of angst and the despair of meaninglessness in my novel, Gilgamesh Immortal, a retelling of the Gilgamesh epic retold within the context of a Biblical worldview. We must be honest with the despair of reality and the meaninglessness of a worldview without ultimate transcendence, a worldview without God, and only then can we begin to find the truth that transcends that reality to bring meaning and purpose to our hollow humanistic lives.