7 Must-Watch Films About Aging

Laura Grande | May 27th, 2016

Movies rarely tackle the subject of aging, but it’s not impossible to find memorable films that find both the humour and heartache in aging gracefully.

1. About Schmidt (2002)

At 66, Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) finds himself at a crossroads: He’s a recently retired insurance salesman with few hobbies and no travel plans. But when his wife suddenly dies, he takes off in an RV to postpone his estranged daughter’s approaching nuptials to a man he despises. During his cross-country drive Warren confronts harsh truths about his late wife and himself. Surrounded by a strong supporting cast, including Kathy Bates and Dermot Mulroney, Nicholson gives one of the finest performances of his career. And you’d have to have a heart of stone not to shed a tear at that final scene.

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2. The Straight Story (1999)

Director David Lynch moves away from his usual boundary-pushing narratives: Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) makes the long journey from Iowa to Wisconsin—by tractor—to visit his ailing brother. Faced with his own medical challenges—Alvin is informed by his doctor that he needs to improve his lifestyle immediately if he wants to live past his current age of 73—Alvin decides it’s time to patch things up with his estranged sibling. “The worst part of being old is remembering when you was young,” he says at one point. The Straight Story is based on real events, which makes its musings on age and familial ties all the more poignant and relatable.

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3. Away From Her (2006)

Directed by Canadian Sarah Polley and based on Alice Munro’s short story, The Bear Came Over the Mountain, the film centres on Grant Andersson (Gordon Pinsent), a man grappling with the realization that his wife of 44 years, Fiona (Julie Christie), is rapidly losing her battle to Alzheimer’s disease. After being placed in a nursing home, Fiona starts showing signs of affection for a mute, wheelchair-bound patient (Michael Murphy), while Grant searches for ways to come to terms with his new reality and eroding marriage.

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4. Wild Strawberries (1957)

Often considered director Ingmar Bergman’s finest film, Wild Strawberries examines the life of an aging professor (Victor Sjostrom) as he contemplates his existence in advance of accepting an honourary degree. Sprinkled throughout the film are daydreams and memories from his youth. The end result is a psychological profile of a person struggling to make sense of the man he’s become.

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5. Harold and Maude (1971)

You wouldn’t figure that a film featuring the unlikely relationship between a 20-year-old obsessed with death (Bud Cort) and a high-spirited 79-year-old (Ruth Gordon) would become a cult classic. But it did. It’s less about the age difference between Harold and Maude and more about how people interact and connect with one another. After all, you’re only as old as you feel.

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6. Amour (2012)

In this Oscar-nominated French-language film, Georges and Anne are retired teachers enjoying life’s simple pleasures together. But when Anne has a stroke, their everyday existence is put to the test—and viewers are left feeling as lost and helpless as Georges as he watches his relationship with his loving wife come apart at the seams. It’s one of the most realistic—and unforgettable—portrayals on the ravages of old age.

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7. On Golden Pond (1981)

Norman (Henry Fonda) and Ethel (Katharine Hepburn) have a strained relationship with their adult daughter, Chelsea (Jane Fonda). But when she shows up unannounced at their front door, her parents reluctantly agree to watch the teenage son of Chelsea’s new boyfriend while the couple go on vacation. Henry Fonda, who was 75 at the time of filming, died shortly after production was completed. On Golden Pond may be a little overly sentimental for some, but the performances—especially those of Fonda and Hepburn coming to terms with their family dynamics—are a treat to watch.