We are now entering the twilight zone... films that finally acknowledge old age

At last, says Christina Patterson, some new films that actually acknowledge old age

"Who is it," says a character called Cissy in Quartet, "who said 'old age is not for cissies'?" The character, played by Pauline Collins in Dustin Hoffman's first film as a director, can't remember.

But then she can't remember quite a lot of things. In this, she is like many of her fellow residents at the retirement home for musicians where she now lives. Some of them, like Jean, played by Maggie Smith, repeat themselves. Others, like Wilf, played by Billy Connolly, have problems with their prostate, and piles. "Why do we have to get old?" Jean asks her long-estranged ex-husband, who's also at the home. "Because," says the character, played by Tom Courtenay, "that's what people do".

Yes, people do get old, though you wouldn't normally know it from films. But at the moment, if you choose carefully, you might. If, for example, you go to see Trouble with the Curve, you'll see Clint Eastwood struggling to pee, and bashing a car against the walls of the garage, and burning a burger because he can hardly see. If you go to see Hope Springs, you'll see Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones as an older couple struggling with a sexless marriage. If you watch The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (which you can now buy on DVD) you'll see men and women struggling with bereavements, weak hearts and wrecked hips.

And if you see Amour, you'll see a man and a woman who have loved each other for more than 50 years quietly falling apart. You'll see the woman, played by Emmanuelle Riva, suddenly go silent over breakfast as she has a stroke. You'll see the man, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, pushing her in a wheelchair, and helping her off the toilet, and pulling up her pants. You'll see a marriage that has been alive with love, and conversation, and shared experiences, change into something that's full of fear, and loneliness, and shame. You'll see, in other words, what happens to the human body, and the human mind, when both begin to decay.

In four of these films, including the one whose title makes it sound as though it ought to, hope springs. In Quartet, it's the hope of a musical reunion – the quartet of the title – in a gala concert, and of a reconciliation after a betrayal. In Trouble with the Curve, it's the hope that an old curmudgeon with old ways can triumph over the fancy ways, and flawed technology, of youth. In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, it's the hope that good things, including sex, are "never over", and that those good things will happen if, as one character says, "we get up in the morning" and "do our best". I won't give away the endings, but let's just say that "feel-good" films aren't called "feel-good" because they make you feel bad. They are all, in their different ways, enjoyable. They are all, in their different ways, limited. They all edge, at times, towards caricature, and they all give in, at times, to the temptation to patronise the old with sentimentality and easy laughs.

That's OK. Most films patronise most people with sentimentality and easy laughs, and at least these films, unlike television and most of the media, acknowledge that old people exist. But Amour doesn't patronise anyone. Amour shows us what happens when even the greatest love is tested, by the body's frailty, to its limits, and when hope, which has sprung for so long, dies. It shows us, in fact, the difference between a nice story that cheers you up, and a work of art that's sad, but also beautiful, because it's true.

'Quartet' is on nationwide release

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before