Suffice it to say that if you thought “On Golden Pond” was depressing, fasten your seat belts. This is a refreshingly honest, unvarnished and difficult-to-watch film about love and aging.
There aren’t enough about those, if you ask me. “Away From Her” — a bittersweet 2006 meditation on a man losing his wife (played by an utterly ethereal Julie Christie) to Alzheimer’s Disease — certainly counts. As does — in my book at least — last year’s vastly under-appreciated “Iron Lady,” in which Meryl Streep depicts Margaret Thatcher in her twilight years not as ruthless and unstinting but as frightened, uncertain, and nostalgic for her dead husband.
In general, however, when we think about films that present us with the dark underbelly of marriage, we conjure up things like Judd Apatow’s new autobiographical comedy, “This is Forty.” I haven’t seen that film yet, but I already know that when I do, I’ll be going primarily to share a laugh with my husband (and all of us who’ve grown up in the Age of Apatow) over what it’s like to be married and middle-aged.
Which is quite different from seeing what marriage looks like if I’m lucky enough to make it into my 80s with my husband. Which is what you get with “Amour.” The film portrays that phase of a couple’s life as one marked by mutual affection, shared interests (in this case, music) and the ability to laugh at one another. Equally, however, it shows you that marriage in later years is as much about diapers, medications, resentments and — above all — the inability, ultimately, to change the other person and make them do what you want.
“Life is so much fun,” the female character says at one point — in a jaw-dropping performance by the 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva — while looking over an album of photos from the couple’s early years. And you smile – if you yourself are in a long-term relationship – because you undoubtedly have a similar album lurking in your bookshelf somewhere. At the same time, you cry, because this woman is mourning the inevitable loss of something that we ourselves are still living.
I don’t personally go to the movies to escape to a reality that bears no resemblance to my own. Rather, I go to the movies so that I can connect with the human condition in all its rawness, and acknowledge — however painful it may be — what this crazy world is really about – the good, the bad and the ugly.
(This is also why, parenthetically, in a month in which we saw an Indian woman raped and left to die in the street and a bunch of American children shot to death in an elementary school, I’m not at all bothered by a list of Academy Award best picture nominees that aren’t afraid to look war, terror and mental illness in the eye.)
I won’t lie to you. “Amour” is almost unbearable to watch. And that’s all the more reason that anyone planning to stay married or committed for the long haul should go see it now.
It gives a realistic window into what happens when you get old and love is no longer pretty.
Amazingly, it also makes you value the person sitting next to you all the more.