The prospects, advisability and potential methods of prolonging human life are examined in an engagingly multifaceted manner in “How to Live Forever.” In his first feature docu since his memorable 2004 look at his father Haskell, “Tell Them Who You Are,” Mark Wexler spans the globe in search of developments in the longevity field. Given that the subject is pertinent to everyone on Earth, commercial prospects look strong, if not theatrically, then on the tube and in very wide ancillary markets.
No, Wexler does not herein reveal the discovery of the source of eternal youth. But several authorities insist we are on the verge of an “anti-aging society,” of the possibility of “radical life extension” that will dwarf the computer revolution in significance, echoing periodic news reports that continue to advance this view.
But this is not a science documentary; perhaps, in fact, it should have been more so, as it would have been fascinating to hear cutting-edge researchers describe how they see the promised breakthrough unfolding both medically and in a real-world sense. Nor at any point does the film force one of the dozens of interview subjects to address the compelling questions of where all these elderly people are going to fit on the planet, and how there will be enough jobs for everyone when there are millions of healthy 150-year-olds running around.
Even now, before any quantum leap has occurred, there are more than 100,000 centenarians in the United States, and the group reps one of the fastest-growing age categories. Wexler visits with several of them (a little less of this wouldn’t have hurt, as they have little interesting to say if they can speak at all); takes in a Ms. Senior America pageant; checks out Vibrant Brains, a San Francisco “gym” for the cerebrum; looks in on a Seventh Day Adventist retirement home, whose residents insist the observance of the Sabbath plays a big role in diffusing life’s stress; alights in Okinawa, where, thanks to an ocean-derived high-nutrients/low-calorie diet and an nonsedentary lifestyle, people tend to enjoy excellent health well into their 90s and experience dramatically less cancer, heart disease and stroke than elsewhere; and travels to Iceland, where males enjoy their longest life expectancy on Earth.
The importance of laughter is stressed by 90-year-old Phyllis Diller, who observes, “The best contraceptive for old people is nudity”; no doubt in disagreement with this view would be the 74-year-old leader of Japan’s “elder porn” movement, who advocates a rather different activity for relieving tension. Wexler hangs with exercise pioneer Jack LaLanne, still a dynamo at 94; accompanies a surgeon in his 90s on an operation; finds a rascally 101-year-old Brit who still runs marathons but pauses at intervals for “a pint and a fag,” and joins Los Angeles restaurant critic Jonathan Gold for a pizza at Mozza and then for an Oki-Dog. The filmmaker also injects his personal feelings via reminiscences about his late artist mother.
Balancing curiosities and anecdotes with informed speculation and common-sense observations, the film proves both entertaining and enlightening; one can’t help but be engaged by the many viewpoints and approaches to life aired here. After all, never before has it been possible to weigh with equal consideration the pontifications of learned Cambridge biogeneticist Dr. Aubrey de Grey on the imminent end of the aging process and the visible manifestation of same in the person of hormones champion Suzanne Somers, who presents the most convincing physical proof yet offered that age 60 is “not old anymore.”