Lake is an unusual boy: he is a young man with an old soul who discovers he has an odd fixation on the elderly. Realizing that some day, if fate allows, he will be one himself, he is particularly fascinated by old men. He imagines their age to be a beautiful thing and recognizes how these men were once young and vibrant and attractive, as he is now. Although Lake has a girlfriend his own age, named Desiree, he wonders sometimes if his fixation on old men is unnatural and unhealthy – perhaps even sexual. When his mother, who is a nurse, takes on a management job at an old folks home, Lake jumps at her offer of a summer job as an orderly there. Gradually, Lake comes to discover that the old people in the institution are being given psychotropic drugs to keep them in a catatonic state. Lake befriends one old man in particular, Mr. Peabody, who still seems to have some fight left in him. They begin to form a strong bond. Mr. Peabody charms Lake with romantic stories of his youth and confesses his dream of seeing the ocean one last time. Avoiding the vigilant eye of Nurse Stone, who administers shots and pills to the old folks, Lake starts to wean Mr. Peabody off his medication. Eventually, Lake springs Mr. Peabody from the institution. Together they embark on a road trip telling everyone they meet that the old man is his grandfather and that they’re driving to the Pacific ocean. After numerous life-changing escapades, Lake is finally ready to accept his true feelings for Mr. Peabody, but everything changes when the trip takes a sudden turn.
NOTE DI REGIA:
While it might not in any conventional sense be considered science fiction, Gerontophilia is at its heart a time travel movie. It takes as its subject a love affair of sorts between an eighty year old man and an eighteen year old boy: two old souls who, had they met each other somewhere else along the space/time continuum, might have become the perfect couple. The old man, Mr. Peabody, lost the love of his life, Smitty, when they were both in their twenties in a swimming accident. Alone for most of his life, and finally abandoned in a nursing home, the old man succumbs to the cruelty of the institution where he is confined, overmedicated with psychotropic drugs and sometimes tied down with restraints. His only consolation is the memories he has of Smitty that come to him almost like hallucinations as he drifts in and out of consciousness, particularly one in which the couple spend a summer’s day on the beach at the Pacific Ocean. Here it’s almost as if he’s time traveling, too.
One day a boy named Lake enters Mr. Peabody’s room. Lake’s mother, a nurse, has arranged a summer job for him as an orderly at the institution. When Mr. Peabody sees the boy, he hallucinates for a moment that Smitty has returned. Even after the boy befriends Mr. Peabody and secretly weans him off his strong medication, the old man sees Smitty in the boy. Lake brings Mr. Peabody back to life in a sense and helps him escape from the institution and fulfill his final wish: to see the Pacific Ocean one more time, the last place he spent a perfect day on vacation with his lover, Smitty.
This is the core of Gerontophilia. The quick pitch for the movie is Harold and Maude meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but it’s not meant to be a glib pair of comparisons. Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude, about the love affair between a young man and an elderly woman, sets a tone between black comedy and romantic realism that Gerontophilia will also aspire to, although in a very different manner. Of course one of the twists of Gerontophilia is that the young man, who is not gay (or if he is, doesn’t know it yet) and has a girlfriend, also has a sexual attraction to old men. In Harold and Maude, the young man just happens to fall in love with a feisty old broad, but it’s the person that he falls in love with; the fact that she is old is almost incidental. Lake is very much afflicted with “gerontophilia” – a sexual fetish for old people, and in his case, with old men in particular. This is where the time travel comes in again: he is able to project himself back in time in his mind when the old men were his age. He realizes that old men were once also vibrant, sexual young beings like he is, and that turns him on. He also has a great deal of empathy for the elderly, so much so that it becomes something sexual to him. This is the challenge of the movie: to make Lake’s sexual affliction seem, if not normal, then at least understandable and sympathetic. There’s a balance that will be achieved between the bizarre nature of his sexual fetish and the very real emotional connection that he finds with Mr. Peabody, something that Hal Ashby managed to do to great affect in Harold and Maude. I’m a huge fan of Ashby’s work in general, and I will aspire to that kind emotional verisimilitude mixed with a keen eye for camera style and composition. Not easy, but it’s something that I like to do in my film work – treat a harsh or extreme subject with a reasonably light or romantic or emotional touch, and combine it with stylish verve. Ashby’s great film “The Last Detail” is another good touchstone – a road movie about two sailors taking a naïve young man across country by bus to the stockade. The characters are tough and jaded, but they unexpectedly end up forming a strong emotional bond with each other. It’s also one of the most beautifully shot films of the seventies (Michael Chapman’s first film as director of photography!).
Another Jack Nicholson film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, is also a touchstone for Gerontophilia. It deals with the cruelty of institutionalization, which is one of the subjects of my film, substituting the nursing home for the mental institution. It’s been much in the news recently in both North America and Europe that owing to a variety of factors – the increase in the number of old people; lack of funding for social services; institutional overload, etc. – that nursing homes have become sometimes harsh and brutal facilities. Understaffed and over-crowded, some of these institutions have resorted to the overuse of psychotropic drugs, sometimes combined with restraints, to keep the elderly docile and confined to bed. Much like McMurphy in Cuckoo’s Nest, who tries to liberate the mental patients from the asylum, Lake is appalled by the treatment of the old people in the nursing home, and he tries, in his own way, to at least save one of them – Mr. Peabody – from the abuse and cruelty of his situation. Like McMurphy, Lake is a rebel and a bit of a misfit, someone who is uncomfortable with the rules of society. In this sense, his final escapade with Mr. Peabody – their escape from the cruel institution and taking off across country on the lam – is his own small revolution against an unjust world.