The new Blake Lively movie The Age of Adaline sees its star play a woman who was frozen in time at age twenty-nine, never to age another day. No laugh lines, stiffness in the bones or grey hair for her. She drifts through life, an eternal twenty-something as her pals age and eventually die.
How does she compare to friends and family? Well, in the film the youthful centenarian Lively has a daughter played by Ellen Burstyn, a veteran actress fifty-five years her co-star’s senior.
It’s a romantic fantasy that brings up an interesting question. Sure, the idea of defying age sounds intriguing, but why would you want to fall in love when there is no possibility of growing old together? That’s the dreamy question at the heart of the film; the notion that allows director Lee Toland Krieger to explore the mushier side of the story, but what about the engine that drives the tale—immortality?
With characters like Wolverine and Edward Cullen pulling in big box office bucks it’s not shocking that movies seem infatuated with eternal life. Nor should it come as a shock that actors are drawn to immortal characters. The obsession with youth is one thing, that’s a job requirement—perhaps that’s why the USA, with Los Angeles at the epicenter, is the world capitol of plastic surgery—but I think it goes beyond that.
With visions of an ageless Adaline dancing in my head I posed a simple question to Alex Garland, the director and screenwriter of this weekend’s artificial intelligence drama Ex Machina: “Why have movies about immortality been so popular with actors and filmmakers?” I got an intriguing answer.
“There is an interest floating around which is as much to do with longevity, as it is immortality,” he said, “but it contains immortality as a long-term goal.
“Broadly speaking what I would say, at least where filmmakers are concerned, is that they’re subject to the same zeitgeist things that everybody else is so what they will do is manifest it in their job.”
Perhaps that’s why in the coming months we’ll see eternal characters in everything from The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Terminator Genisys to Pan and Crimson Peak.
The rich and famous have always dreamed of extending natural life. For instance, although it’s an urban legend that Walt Disney was frozen cryogenically to be thawed later it makes a good and almost true sounding story. While doing working on Ex Machina Garland says he discovered tales of wealthy people looking to find immortality through science.
“The researchers might be quite realistic about what artificial intelligence can promise but the funders may be less realistic about it. One of the things that some of the funders are looking for, and I’ve heard this expressed very explicitly, not in a coded way but an absolutely straightforward way, is the ability to download yourself and for you to survive long as a result of your enormous wealth.
“Powerful people don’t want to die. Everyone else figures they don’t have a choice but the really powerful people figure they do have a choice and they are going to explore it just in case.”
I think Hollywood may be obsessed with immortality for one other reason. Film stock offers it’s own kind of eternity, where one never ages and on the screen Blake Lively will be the twenty-nine-year-old Adaline forever.