May

9

 With the new documentary HOW TO LIVE FOREVER, director Mark Wexler examines what it takes to live a long and—fulfilling? life —physically, mentally, and spiritually. The one-two punch experiences of the death of his painter-mother and the arrival of his AARP card were the seedbeds of his filmic research, in which he explores the most fundamental of human connections to life.

As a Southern California native, Mark's natural instinct was to live longer and, as Botox, surfing and Hollyweird attests, younger. In HOW TO LIVE FOREVER he embarks on a global trek to investigate what it means to grow old and what it could mean to really live 'forever.' But whose advice should he take? Does 94-year-old exercise guru Jack LaLanne have all the answers, or does British Buster, a now-103-year-old grizzled, chain-smoking, ale-guzzling marathoner? What about futurist Ray Kurzweil, sci-fi guru Ray Bradbury, a 'laughter yoga' maven, or an unassuming 74-year-old new-age Japanese recent porn-stud celeb (who chuckles: "I've made what I think are 200 films since I became a porn star." Amazing clips of some of his starring vehicles expand the average viewer's mental apparatus on what constitutes the upper regions of sexuality. He is part of the growing industry of older porn that is apparently taking the Far East by storm)? Wexler explores the viewpoints of piquantly unusual characters, alongside those of health, fitness, and life-extension experts in this engaging doc, which by the final credits challenges our notions of youth and aging with sometimes-dour if often-comic poignancy.

Begun as a study in life-extension, studying beauty contests for the AARP-aged, wandering to Las Vegas for connubial ceremonies for first-time married octogenarian set, then to cryogenic facilities for preservation of bodies ($150,000 a year) and 'neurologies' (heads alone, a bargain $80,000/year) until medicine finds a way to re-vivify these preserves in their jet-age stainless steel cylinders, LIVE FOREVER evolves into a thought-provoking examination of what gives life meaning.

One amusing sequence has Wexler confronting pierced and tatted teens through flinty centenarians, "If you had a pill that extended your life 500 years, would you take it?" Shades of the 2011 sci-fi LIMITLESS, which energetically explores a similar concept, except expanding the brain's capabilities to its maximal level. As many people say no to the 5-century-pill offer, interestingly, as say yes. Even the quite young think a beat, then often say that life gets its seasoning from being limited. One couple in their 80s is asked. The husband immediately assents to the idea: "Sure!" He agrees—lots of things to do, learn, experience. His wife looks on, unperturbed. At her turn, she answers, "Why would I want to stay married [to him] another 500 years? No, please!"
In addition to Jack LaLanne (a year before his recent death at 95) and futurologist Kurzweil, the film also features zesty interviews with writer Ray Bradbury, the still hysterical (in both senses) Phyllis Diller, newsman/interviewer Willard Scott, exercise doyenne Suzanne Somers, and writer Pico Iyer (a former colleague from when we worked at TIME). One physician, a surgeon, is still practicing surgery daily at 94. (He doesn't look it.) He shares the amusing nugget that he "doesn't often tell colleagues how old [he] is." He's thinking of leaving the office next year, but enjoys the camaraderie of the 'superior people' he encounters in his field, and regrets having to stop work, when and if.

Clearly, Wexler finds elderly who are both sensate and compos mentis in addition to being up there in moon count. It's no great shakes being older than the galaxy if you aren't also full of the life that could make use of the increasing years. He dismisses the claims of many in exotic climes who stake their ages to high triple digits because they offer no proof, and suggests they are motivated by competition, cultural tendrils and other aspects of society to claim older years than they are entitled to by the clock.

The people Wexler does find, among them a 122-year-old who seems unsurprised and unimpressed by the news she is the world's oldest person, offer a mix of advice for staying alive: From "Get yourself good parents and genes" to "Drink a coupla glasses of vodka, eat lots of chocolate and meat every day" and "smoke yourself a pack or two of fags" just to stay in the game.

Some gerontologists might disagree, but then again, how many of them can offer competing digits along with their advice and bromides to the longest lived?


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