I’ve seen a lot of movies that feature mature characters. (It’s kind of a hobby of mine now.) Some were funny. Some were insulting. And a few of them were a pleasant surprise, like the one that popped up on my Netflix queue last night. It was the 2014 remake of “Elsa and Fred” starring Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer. This film delivered two things that I seldom observe these days—one touching and encouraging, the other stark and yet liberating.
The first thing was a realistic and charming story of love between older adults. Elsa is a woman with an exuberant personality that shakes up the world of a widower who insists that all he wants to do is sit and rest. She draws him into a series of adventures and along the way they develop a caring relationship. What she taught him was that however much time you have left, all of life is a gift to be enjoyed to the fullest.
The second thing occurred near the end of the movie. Elsa’s colorful character had a dream of acting out the closing scene from a Fellini film. Fred surprises her with a trip to Rome to carry out her long-held dream. Dressed as the characters played by Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni in a 1960 classic, they go about reenacting the scene. Elsa steps into the fountain wearing a strapless gown with her arms outstretched. With no Hollywood tricks used to cover it up, the camera reveals her upper arms with all their glorious wrinkles and bulk.
At first I cringed. Then I realized that Shirley MacLaine had been brave enough to show her 80-year-old body to the world. Most of us cover up or give in to anti-aging procedures to hide as we age. The honesty in that shot made my initial sense of repulsion turn into celebration. This was a rare glimpse at the naked truth. There’s freedom in letting our natural selves show up. Unless you buy into the ageism that runs amok in our society.
It’s never too late for love or for a dream to come true. What a touching and refreshing movie!