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Indiana Jones & The Grey Pound: Why Can't The Movies Let Us Grow Old Gracefully?

It seems Hollywood has no idea how to treat the elderly.

Words by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)


It's official - Harrison Ford will once again reprise the role of Indiana Jones for a fifth movie in Spielberg's blockbuster franchise. Ford will be 75 when the cameras roll in 2018. When the announcement was made, the internet reacted with predictable derision at the thought of a whip wielding septuagenarian. Just as predictable was the reaction to the reaction, with those scoffing at the announcement being denounced as ageists.


While there's undoubtedly an element of bigotry towards the elderly at play here, I think most of us don't necessarily have an issue with a 75-year-old Indiana Jones; our problem is how the legendary character will be used. Personally I'd love to see a movie that takes the aged Indy down a path more suitable to his advanced time of life. I have no interest in seeing him tag along as a sidekick in his own movie while handing the reigns (and the whip) over to some young whippersnapper (most likely Jai Courtney). After all, Indy's an archaeologist, in reality hardly the most action packed profession. If the Indiana Jones of Raiders, Temple of Doom and Last Crusade was a James Bond Indy, wouldn't it be great if we got a later life Indy along the lines of John LeCarre's George Smiley, the grey haired spook of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, among others? Following Bridge of Spies, there's a remote possibility that this could well be Spielberg's line of thought, but I very much doubt it. Hollywood isn't about to tinker with such a popular franchise, so expect Indy complaining about his back and struggling to find his glasses while aided by Jai Courtney.


Hollywood just doesn't seem to know what to do with older stars. This is largely down to the death of the lower to mid-budget mainstream film; big sci-fi action blockbusters jsut don't have the parts for senior stars. If an older actor wants a part in a Hollywood production they're going to have to kiss their dignity goodbye. Just look at DeNiro in Dirty Grandpa! On second thoughts, don't look anywhere in the immediate vicinity of that movie.

Whenever veteran actors headline a movie now it's usually a variation on a plotline which sees one or more septuagenarians behaving like adolescents. The comedy Last Vegas - again starring DeNiro, alongside Michael Douglas, Kevin Kline and Morgan Freeman - is a perfect example.

Then there's the classic 'cantankerous old codger' role, most recently essayed by Maggie Smith in The Lady in the Van, which proves it's not just Hollywood that perpetuates this trend - the Brits are quite happy to pigeonhole their elderly too.


In fact it's become a recent phenomenon in the UK film industry, with a raft of movies aiming for 'The Grey Pound'. A few years ago someone in a suit studied copious charts and discovered that people don't suddenly stop watching movies upon retirement, and since then we've had a slew of mediocre to awful films in which aging British thesps suffer indignities in roles that tend to at best patronise and at worst explicitly mock the elderly. The most egregious example of this is 2014's The Love Punch, in which Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson, two of the sexiest stars you'll find in any age group, play a pair of divorcees in a movie riddled with rheumatism gags. The most clich├ęd trope of the Grey Pound movies sees its aging stars walk in slo-mo Reservoir Dogs style, usually wearing shades, only to have their 'moment of cool' disrupted by the flaring up of a dodgy hip - cue record scratch sound effect.


Across the channel in France, things aren't much better. Gallic movies featuring the elderly usually follow a plotline whereby an aging professor of poetry, painting or philosophy falls for a hot twentysomething while his younger wife (most likely played by Kristin Scott Thomas) turns a blind eye and lets him work out his issues. When the professor finally gets his hand on the youthful object of his lust, his big moment is inevitably interrupted by the flaring up of a dodgy hip.

Why do the movies believe the elderly are so obsessed with reliving their youth? I don't know any seniors who behave, or would want to behave like this in reality. Why can't we have more movies like 45 Years, Amour or The Straight Story, movies that present us with well developed elderly characters presented in a realistic and dignified fashion? The debate is constantly raging over how we need more diversity in the movies. Everyone likes to see themselves accurately and positively depicted on screen; surely the elderly are no different?


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