With apologies to Jean-Paul Sartre, hell is not other people. Rather, hell is being stuck in one’s own head without being able to relate to or connect with other people. Among the consistent themes of movies about immortals is that as bad as it is to die alone, it is far less pleasant to live alone forever without beings to share eternity with. Whether one is dealing with the Casca: The Eternal Mercenary, the Highlander, or even the Twilight series, eternity alone is so horrible that it makes it difficult to enjoy anyone’s company, because one becomes friends with beings who die, while one still lives. One has to wonder if that dynamic is one of the aspects that has made encounters with God less common over time. The shorter the lifespan of mankind, the more difficult it is to befriend and walk with a human being, and to build up trust. It is a true act of moral courage to develop a close relationship that only lasts a bit of time, because one being will live forever and the other will have to wait for eternity, for the resurrection of the just, at the last trumpet.
In a movie like “The Age of Adaline,” whatever pseudoscientific reason is given for the lack of aging is merely hand waving to give some sort of plausible explanation that is not entirely magical, and that can exist within some version of the “real world” as we know it. After all, even if Adaline’s specific lack of aging is itself an obvious plot device, it nevertheless represents a good way to talk about far more realistic difficulties that are easy to relate to. Blake Lively’s character is not the only one who feels trapped in time while the world moves forward. I know that on at least a couple of occasions I have expressed the same frustration  about years that drag on without end and without apparent progress. When one knows one will live and those one loves will die, it becomes hard to open up one’s heart to love, to knowing and being known if all one sees are the same patterns over and over again. One becomes a witty and sometimes cruel observer of life, keeping the world and the people in it at a safe distance, but ceasing to live and being content with mere existence, and the gradual self-development of learning another few languages, at the cost of burying generations of spaniels.
Watching “The Age Of Adaline” was a poignant experience. One sees a woman who has been running for decades, long after anyone stopped hunting her. Once she got spooked by a series of events in the 1950’s, she keeps running and running, every ten years changing her name, her look, and her life, such as it is, working in clerical jobs or in libraries requiring little deep interaction with others, so she can keep her pursed lips and her sense of studied and world-weary indifference, except when she breaks down sobbing under the burden of her isolation and loneliness. Once one feels like prey, once one feels unsafe, it’s hard to stop running, hard to stop looking over your shoulder, hard to slow down, to relax, and to let anyone else in. We were not meant to be prey of each other or of our own fears and anxieties. Still, we are prey often enough that this movie is quite easy to relate to, in terrifying ways.
When it comes to the movies, there are certain actors whose films I return to over and over again, like Harrison Ford. Other actors and actresses I will avoid like the plague. I think it will not be too long before I add Blake Lively’s name to the short list of actors and actresses whose films I will go out of my way to see. She carries this movie with her facial expressions, with her devastating wit, with her touching vulnerability, and with immense restraint. It is a heartbreaking role, in a movie that ends far happier than it has any right to, and one that reminds us that eternity is only worthwhile if it can be shared with other eternal beings. Sometimes someone needs to know that they will die before they can truly live, and this film is a touching reminder that we only truly live when our lives are filled with love. The years are merely placeholders for the life we put into them, for our relationships and our experiences. This is true whether we are a film immortal, or whether we are an ordinary person. Our lives were not meant to be spent alone, and it is a tragedy if we waste them so.
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