His curiosity piqued by New York Times articles, filmmaker Robert Kane Pappas set out to investigate scientific breakthroughs that prove conclusively (in yeast and mice, at least) that aging is not a built-in inevitability, but a process that can be genetically manipulated to postpone disease and significantly prolong life. “To Age or Not to Age” supplies neither an objective context (there’s not a hint of dissent) nor a personal p.o.v. on such a hypothetical notion; the reactions of biologists, though, vacillating between utopian elation and trepidations about Big Pharma, are a show in themselves. Unfocused docu bows July 16 in Gotham.
Pic presents an impressive but suspiciously unanimous array of evolutionary biologists who discuss the astounding, accidental discovery (compared in one instance to the discovery of DNA) of the gene that affects aging. At the same time came the discovery that the antimicrobial substance resveratrol, which can be synthesized (and thus patented), perfectly mimics the properties of that gene. Already successful in extending the longevity of lower life forms, the biologists theorize about how long it might take for human application to be approved, given the various social forces for or against it. The only alternative voice, this one even more radically supportive, is supplied by a tall, ascetic, long-bearded scientist who admits his projection of man soon being capable of living for a thousand years is, very probably, conservative.
Unlike other subjects of Pappas’ self-described “serial expertise” in past documentaries, on topics such as love (“Some Fish Can Fly”) or mass media (“Orwell Rolls in His Grave”), molecular biology invites little input from laymen, relegating the helmer to the uncharacteristic role of awestruck hunter-gatherer of information. His commentary varies wildly in tone and relevance: On the plus side, there’s a nifty Shavian quote from “Back to Methuselah”; on the minus side, there’s a thuddingly repetitive visual conceit involving the proverbial “elephant in the room,” complete with a recurring image of a red pachyderm.
Pappas’ scattershot musings on the social, political and metaphysical implications of extended healthy seniority come off as positively crystalline compared with the random natterings of the director’s friends and neighbors, who are invited to chime in.