Who Better to Make Us Feel ‘Old’ Than M. Night Shyamalan?

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Old (CREDIT: Universal Pictures)

Starring: Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Thomasin McKenzie, Alex Wolff, Abbey Lee, Eliza Scanlen, Ken Leung, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Aaron Pierre, Kathleen Chalfant, Emun Elliott, Embeth Davidtz

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Intense, Strange Violence and a Bare Buttcrack Running Into the Ocean

Release Date: July 23, 2021 (Theaters)

After delivering one of the most iconic twist endings of all time in The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan became straitjacketed by his reputation for the last-second reveal. But now that he’s a little bit older (wink, wink) and wiser, he’s quietly and consistently embraced that reputation. And why not? He truly is one of the all-time masters of the technique, and Old might just be his greatest trick since The Sixth Sense. But Old doesn’t rely on the twist for the entire movie to be effective (which was also the case with his breakthrough film). If the conclusion hadn’t told us what was really happening on this beach that ages people at a rate of about 2 years per hour, I would’ve been disappointed. But I also probably would’ve quickly gotten over that by appreciating everything else there is to offer in this meditation on the passage of time.

Each of the vacationers who find themselves on Old‘s private beach are in situations that are ripe for prompting considerations of mortality. Prisca (Vicky Krieps) has a tumor in her stomach, which is contributing to the troubles with her husband Guy (Gael García Bernal). Charles (Rufus Sewell) is beset by mental illness while attempting to keep both his much younger wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee) and elderly mother Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant) happy. Jarin (Ken Leung) and Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird) are trying to enjoy themselves without worrying too much about Patricia’s frequent seizures. Big deal rapper Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre) is decompressing from the pressures of fame while also dealing with a blood clotting condition. And on top of all that, we’ve got Prisca and Guy’s two kids and Charles and Chrystal’s daughter running around, which is the perfect formula to make any parent get a little verklempt about how the days are just whizzing by.

So just how would people really react if their lifespans suddenly became overwhelmingly compressed? As Old sees it, their first instinct would be to escape, which is probably why Shyamalan decided to make it nearly impossible for them to do so. As they attempt to make peace – or not – with their doom, their reactions are filled with violence and terror. And of course that’s the case; this is a panicky and desperate crisis, a fabulous escape room of mammoth proportions. But there are also moments of  reflection and tenderness, as the families attempt to make the best of the time they have left with each other.

From the first frame to the last, Old is richly satisfying as both metaphor and thought experiment. The questions it raises are plenty of fun to puzzle out as the characters do so on screen. If our biological ages suddenly become so much older, would we become correspondingly more emotionally and mentally mature? Just what is it that makes us mature when time passes at its normal rate anyway? Life experiences, for sure. And well, there’s a lot of life experience packed into each grain of sand on this beach. And the same is also true of the richest cinema in the world. You’ll probably feel a little older after watching Old, and I bet you’ll be thankful about that.

Old is Recommended If You Like: Feeling both scared and enriched by the passage of time

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Hours

Greta Gerwig’s ‘Little Women’ Demonstrates the Power of Renewed Resonance Through Reorganizing

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CREDIT: Wilson Webb/Columbia/Sony Pictures

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper

Director: Greta Gerwig

Running Time: 135 Minutes

Rating: PG for A Few Bloody Knuckles and General Adolescence

Release Date: December 25, 2019

I’m a big advocate for the value of consuming a story in whatever order you damn well please. If you get engrossed in a movie halfway through and then watch the beginning at some future point, then bully on you. If you watch the last season of a popular TV show first and then catch up on previous seasons in a random zigzagging order, that sounds fascinating. If you always skip ahead to the last paragraph of a novel and also reread your favorite chapters before you’re done the whole thing, then it sounds like you’re someone who enjoys experimenting. To all of you who fit in any of those categories, you’ve got a kindred spirit in Greta Gerwig, who plays mix-and-match with her rendition of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 semi-autobiographical novel Little Women, one of the most beloved and oft-adapted works of American fiction.

If I were to extend my advocacy for watching something in whatever order you like to its logical end, then I could say that you could watch this Little Women in an even more chronologically mixed-up fashion than it already is. (Or you could go in the opposite direction, and I bet there is someone out there who will one day re-edit this film into a more temporally linear fashion.) But Gerwig’s chosen order of events is far from arbitrary. The opening scene and one of the final moments especially underscore the themes that she wants to bring to the surface.

There is a general air of light postmodernism to this movie, in the sense that there is a tacit understanding that the majority of the audience is already familiar with the story. Thus, Gerwig begins with scenes in which the little women are closer to, if not already, grown adults. The most iconic episodes from earlier in the March sisters’ lives do not need to be rehashed, at least not right away. Instead, Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) kicks things off by bounding into a publishing office to sell a story she’s written. It’s bought by a Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts), but he also tells her that if her main character is a girl, she must be married (or dead) by the end. Chances are that most viewers know that these are indeed the fates that await the March sisters, but a collective smirk is likely to form across the crowd at this moment, because we also know that the entire purpose of Little Women is that these significant lives are not just reduced to their expected conclusions.

The other essential moment comes when the far-flung temporal settings have caught up with each other, and Jo is fretting to her sisters that her completed novel, based on her own family life, is about a trivial topic and nothing important. Even though she is mightily invested in her own work, she is still subscribing to the idea that only “important” subjects are really worthy of being written about in novels. But then her youngest, always fiercely opinionated sister Amy (Florence Pugh) insists that the mere act of writing about a subject confers importance upon it. And so, because Gerwig is telling this story once again, and because it is clearly a labor of love for her, and because Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen are there alongside her and Ronan and Pugh to round out and bring to life the March sisterhood, all of that is the reason why Little Women is important in 2019.

Little Women is Recommended If You Like: Revisiting the classics

Grade: 4 out of 5 Adaptations