A Little More Fear of Death, Please? 


How to Live Forever
Directed by Mark Wexler

The title is something of a misnomer: with his mother gone, and himself on the downslope of 50, Mark Wexler makes a general study of life-extension experts, self-proclaimed and otherwise. As animated scorecards tally the age of each interview subject—eliciting oohs from a very full recent press screening—Wexler encounters means-tested and unreplicable strategies, from smoothie evangelist Jack LaLanne to a fag-smoking, pint-swilling Brit centenarian (both since deceased). He loops death-defying scientists Aubrey de Grey and Ray in with miracle cures and cryonics, as well as the Guinness-certified or above-averagely active (a Japanese elder-porn star; the contestants at the Miss Senior America pageant), and a couple celebrities who simply happen to be elderly (Ray Bradbury, Phyllis Diller). Mottled faces, varicose vein-laced hands, and dementia (“I want my brain,” says a hormone-perked, smooth-faced Suzanne Somers) point to certain restrictions and realities, while blinged-out funeral accessories suggest the solipsism inherent in the 
denial of death.

Wexler’s “wisest” friend, Pico Iyer, tells him that death’s finality makes sense of life (for who?), but the director barely addresses the fear of death—“a special way of being afraid/No trick dispels,” as Philip Larkin wrote—and his grief over the loss of a parent is neither as intense nor as personal as, say, Ross McElwee’s in Time Indefinite. Pulling AARP The Magazine out of his mailbox in an obviously staged interlude, Wexler pulls a crestfallen face; he nods eagerly, studiously at each of his subjects in reverse shots. His conclusions are similarly generic and predetermined. Like Jose Saramago in Death with Interruptions, Wexler settles on the lasting resonance of art as mortality’s consolation prize. (Julian Barnes was more creative in Nothing to Be Frightened Of, bitterly addressing the book’s last-ever reader in one passage.) His film, though, is a cutesy binder of folk remedies offering inadequate balm.

Opens May 13


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