Sunday, February 15, 2009

"Ship of Fools" and middle age

It's interesting when a work of art acquires new meanings when one grows older. Many years ago I saw the movie "Ship of Fools" about a cruise ship full of German passengers in 1933, just as the Nazis were taking power. And I realized the historical nuances that were present in the movie. Every passenger represented a particular type of person; the Nazi, the Jew, the aristocrat. But I saw as simply a movie with a definite historical allegory to tell.

Then seeing it yesterday, I discovered something. Almost every one of the characters is middle aged. And having entered that phase of life myself, the movie becomes something else entirely. I can see the characters as more than just stereotypes, they are people entering a particular phase in their lives. Every one of them is full of regrets, of what they did, of what they didn't do. They are wondering whether they can change this late in the game.They have moments in which they express hope, others in which they are so disillusioned that they can't feel but pessimism about it all. They are full of mixed feelings towards everything. And I can't help think that during these years I have experienced all these feelings myself.

Which also made me realize how very few movies deal with middle age. Most movies are about the younger years. There are movies about thirtysomethings. And even movies about seniors and their problems. But I can't think about many movies about people in their 40's and 50's. such a crucial part of life and movies (and books) pay little attention to it. So in a way, "Ship of Fools" is a great movie because it does.

This theme in the movie adds greater significance to something Michael Dunn says in one of those rare moments in movies when an actor talks directly to the audience: "You may say what does this have to do with you? It has everything to do with you". And he is right.

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