Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Robert Kane Pappas asks TO AGE OR NOT TO AGE -- but doesn't quite answer

Is that title a play on Hamlet's "To be or not to be"? Or just a question that hangs in the air sporting so many ramifications that easy answers go by the wayside? If the title TO AGE OR NOT TO AGE strikes you (it does me) as a bit clunky, rest assured that the movie is a lot more intelligent, sometimes poetic, even occasionally sweet than its name might suggest. Back in 2003, filmmaker Robert Kane Pappas, gave us the excellent documentary Orwell Rolls in His Grave (the link provides my earlier review on Netflix, writing as "talltale"). Now Mr. Pappas is back, with quite a different kettle of fish.

The filmmaker, shown at right, is interested in the subject of aging -- that's for sure -- but he approaches it from a variety of angles, using talking heads (belonging to scientists, businessmen, friends and acquaintances) and exploring the possibilities in ways that are quiet and thoughtful, rather than angry and coercive.  The intent here seems to be discovery rather than conversion (as with, and rightly so, "Orwell") and so the ideas he's marshaled about aging, its "necessity," and the possibility of putting it off for years (or decades) is intriguing.

As Dr. Thomas Kirkwood notes in the film, "A lot of people think we're biologically programmed to die, but the truth is that we're biologically programmed for survival.  There is no mechanism inside us that turns on to kill us when a certain period of time has elapsed."  No, but people do seem to die, finally and often enough, of "old age" -- old age being something that, along with which, necessary bodily functions cease operation.  Even so, there is now an entire field of research known as anti-aging, and this film introduces us to a number of its practitioners (like Dr. David Sinclair, above).  And when they explain themselves and their approach, they make some sense, too.

Another of these is Dr. Cynthia Kenyon, below, who insists that the anti-aging break-though "ranks with the discovery of DNA...  People would age more slowly, stay younger longer, and remain free of disease for a longer time."  And Aubrey de Grey, Ph.D., at left, who definitely has that "spiritual" look down pat, 
arugues that we'll be able to "get rid of and reverse aging itself  That this can be done no longer seems in doubt.  The only real questions nowadays is For how long?"

As some of the scientists do point out, when this reversal-of-aging begins is rather important.  Wait too long, and you'll stop aging, all right, but you'll stop when you are already too old for it to matter.  The time to begin, evidently, is when you're middle aged and still healthy: pre-50, I should think.  As for the friends that Pappas queries, the results range from "Of course I want to live longer" (the indomitable Madelyn Lynn, above) to the not quite so certain.


In case you haven't noticed by now, this movie is not a "to have a face-lift or not to have a face-lift" cliff-hanger -- though there is one women, pictured with our filmmaker at right, who is concerned with exactly that.  (She gets one, too.)  No: this film's more about yeast and mice, genes and opossums. In the supermarket, where ideas seems to come more freely, notes Pappas, we begin to think about things like the bigger picture, Big Pharma, and the SIRT2 gene.

Eventually it grows rather moving to hear these people and their attitudes: skeptical, amused, wondering.  One scientist becomes a priest and then returns to science via teaching.  And of course our current health care system comes under some scrutiny, as well.  Overall the documentary is more allusive that you will probably first imagine.  And whatever your final estimation of the subject at hand, I think you'll be surprised at the mood -- thoughtful but questioning -- you're left in by the finale.   

To Age or Not to Age opens for your delectation this Friday, July 16, at Manhattan's Village East Cinemas.  You can find other upcoming screenings here.

7 comments:

maxhealth said...

Notwithstanding the fact that the topic of this film is intriguing, the film itself is not worth wasting your money or time on. It should be billed as an infomercial, not a film which one pays to see, and a very shoddy one at that. You will feel that you aged ten years if you manage to stay in your seat for the entire film. Nothing new or interesting about this rather lame effort.

James van Maanen, said...

Hey, MaxHealth -- Aren't you going to give us any further info about your Resveratrol usage and what happened? Two days from back in December 2006 is hardly enough for us to form a considered opinion. How about posting an update to let us know what happened with your Resveratrol use?

Meanwhile, I can understand your comment about the To Age/Not to Age movie, but since I went into it knowing little about the whole thing, I found it quite interesting. It didn't seem to me that Mr. Pappas was pushing us to embrace the anti-aging stuff (hence your "infomercial" comparison), but rather just to consider the possibilities here.

Anonymous said...

I am surprised about your comments maxhealth, don't you sell resveratrol yourself? http://www.imminst.org/forum/index.php?app=core&module=search&section=search&do=search&fromsearch=1

I think your opinion is a little colored or skewed.

Anonymous said...

Great movie about the science and discussion of longevity, from the scientists who are at the front lines... and ganing ground. It appears that filmfangirl, I mean bio.., err Laura? wait this is a fourth anonymous name you have? Ok, Mr maxhealth (the previous rater who has apparently copy-pasted the same remarks everywhere under assumed names!) who represents a company that sells resveratrol doesn't want you to hear some facts from unbiased scientists, that may educate you about resveratrol. Sounds to me like another classic documentary which brings out some interesting facts, that happens to rub typical monolithic corporate companies the wrong way. Yes, even I changed my mind against time released resveratrol (which wouldn't work for me or any of my friends), and am thinking about some good points in this movie. Good going!

James van Maanen, said...

My, my. These comments are certainly getting more interesting. Naughty MaxHeath -- if what Anonymous says is true. But then s/he remains anonymous, which does detract a bit from total believability. Ah, the wonders of communicating via the Internet...

James van Maanen, said...

My, my. These comments are certainly getting more interesting. Naughty MaxHeath -- if what Anonymous says is true. But then s/he remains anonymous, which does detract a bit from total believability. Ah, the wonders of communicating via the Internet...

Miriam said...

This is a fascinating subject that has only been waved at by the main stream media (Barbara Walters, 60 Minutes and others) in a glib and cursory fashion. Pappas introduces us to the players, allows their personalities to emerge and brings us on his journey of discovery through what could be a mind-numbingly complex topic if he didn't make it utterly digestible.