One of the most rousing things in cinema currently is the number of films which look at old age and present elderly (or aging) characters as the focus. Sarah Polley’s directorial debut is a great case in point, for in 2006 she gave us the marvellously mature Away From Her – an examination of the devastating impact of Alzheimer’s on a long-lived relationship – and this naturally draws parallels with the 2012 Palme d’Or winner, Michael Haneke’s Amour, the French film that takes an in-depth look at a similar subject.
Curiously enough – as often happens with subjects within cinema – we saw British flick Quartet and the American movie with a similar premise (as suggested by the title) A Late Quartet delivered in parallel recently, and these gave the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Christopher Walken, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon and even Billy Connolly a chance to embrace their elder selves on the silver screen.
For every triumph, however, there’s undoubtedly a disaster. And I refuse to treat those two imposters just the same: Mamma Mia looked like the cinematic equivalent of what would happen if a mid-life crisis involved taking minor amounts of cocaine at a karaoke bar, whilst the sugar-coated everything-will-be-alright nonsense of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (and the unfortunate news of its on-its-way sequel) demonstrated that old people can be just as insufferable and devoid of interest as the rest of us, especially when supplemented with lacklustre writing.
Fortunately, Wrinkles – a Spanish animation dubbed by Martin Sheen (former US President, Uncle of Spider-Man and the real Seymour Skinner, an admittedly above-average CV) and doubtlessly acting as the draw for the English-language version – is certainly much closer to the former than the latter, although it struggles to reach quite such accomplished heights. It tells the story of Sheen’s character, Emilio, who is a new resident at a care home that strives to appeal to the OAPs’ middle-class sons and daughters and their guilt – rather than the pensioners themselves – and therefore could be set almost anywhere given the largely transferable values between time and place.
Emilio is admitted to such an institution because of his failing, flailing memory which struggles to keep up with the rest of his self. He’s quickly introduced to his guide and roommate Miguel, himself a voluntary inmate, who shows all of the nous and trickery of someone extremely familiar with the setup of the system (including the people who dwell within it). Though he’s at first a touch one-tone and doesn’t appear to display a great deal of compassion for others, there is an ever-growing suggestion that Miguel’s antics are less of a selfish streak and more of a coping mechanism for the chaos that surrounds him daily.
Despite the solitary objective (as relayed by Miguel) being to avoid the top floor – the place where those without hope are taken and ‘looked after’ – the true moments of sadness and horror for the audience are those that shock for just the right reasons. These aren’t scenes where we’re put into the compromised, heavy-hearted positions of relatives, but instead unsettle us because we’re thrust into the rare point-of-view of the aging person themselves. These jolt the viewer into an empathetic mode by doing so and, as a result, when these flashes of mental degeneration occur we’re primed to feel the full weight of them.
These include the opening scene of Emilio misidentifying his own son and mistaking the situation for one that would have taken place twenty years prior, which leads to the decision to commit Emilio to a home. His anxieties become apparent through the first-day-at-school imagery floating around his head and, later – in perhaps the most disconcerting scene of the film – we’re privy to one of many moments where his mental faculties are strained beyond their capabilities, causing our protagonist to not quite recognise or grasp the words being uttered. However this is done so knowingly that it borders on the sci-fi, fantasy and horror genres where new lands, worlds and realities – often dreamlike in their scape and execution – play upon our most internal and innate fears.
This is an Alice in Wonderland-like exploration and, albeit very briefly, the film displays glimpses of Richard Linklater’s philosophical animation Waking Life. These horrific notions that are centrally regarding the loss of memory, sanity and ultimately identity are ones that streak through cinema from Hitchcock’s wrong men to Chris Nolan’s modern hits. The strength of Wrinkles isn’t to do with a memorable, overly-strong narrative but its individual elements dwelling within that combine to create something significant, something worth investing in and something rather different in POV than the offerings up until now.
It may not be Up – where the genius lot at Pixar pull only a thinly-veiled adventure-based-plot over the obvious age issues at stake – or Mary and Max, where the eponymous Philip Seymour Hoffman-voiced New Yorker Max Horowitz is left alone due to a cruel and twisted world, but its explicitness is no bad thing either. It reminds us of many things, primarily that the old-age cinema which this film represents has been so lacking up until recent years, and probes the extent to which this issue deserves more attention and adulation. Films like Wrinkles form part of the solution to such a crisis. They have an audience, and cinema is all the better for it.
Wrinkles was released on DVD on Monday 28th April.