Midlife at the Movies

February 12, 2009 |

last2 In this blogpost that came across my desk yesterday, the writer reflects on how heroic characters in the movies played a key role in motivating and inspiring him to stay positive during a rough midlife decade. He describes a recent 50 something Liam Neeson character, an action hero who takes calm control of a dire situation with relentless focus, persistence, and physical skill, and then goes on to name others who helped him to overcome feelings of overwhelm and helplessness, and to remind him that age is not a barrier to what you want to achieve.

I thought of my own experience, of the enormous importance of role models, and of the impact these archetypal characters exert over our perceptions of our choices, and our behaviors. Their larger than life, mythical images deeply influence our imagination, whether we intend them to or not, and I think for some, can even serve as default models for behavior. This writer’s heroes -Neeson, Tommy Lee Jones, Clint Eastwood, Robert Duvall - have all aged well into roles depicting quintessentially strong, masculine archetypes, but who also possess human qualities of persistence, authenticity, courage, and a sense of justice.

And I thought inevitably, as a woman, of women actors I’ve enjoyed over the years. Given the usual ‘dearth of good roles for women over 40″ refrain, I was surprised that I could name several - and that I have followed them through several life stages. Dianne Keaton, from Annie Hall to Marvin’s Room and As Good As It Gets, Shirley McLaine, from The Turning Point through to Steel Magnolias and Evening Star, and Meryl Streep, from Sophie’s Choice to Postcards from the Edge, to Mama Mia. To name a few. And a sleeper favorite came to mind. Well before it ever dawned on me that one day it would happen to me, I saw Between Friends, with Carol Burnett and Elizabeth Taylor portraying a gritty, rock solid and indispensable friendship that carried two women through a rocky midlife reckoning. This many years later, though I’ve forgotten the story, the impact of its powerful relationship has stayed with me.

Their characters modeled ways of being from ingenue to wise woman, from career woman to homemaker to outspoken grandmother. They dealt with real issues, the death of a child, caring for sick parents, raising adult children or grandchildren, seeking new roles and discovering a renewed sexual vitality. They grappled authentically, if not always successfully or gracefully, with what life handed them. They sought to work through balancing their own and others’ needs and wants, and emotions of loss and anger and desire and unexpected joy. I wouldn’t have always made the choices they made, nor did they necessarily take control with the relentless focus that so inspired this writer. For me, they inspire simply by modeling the persistence and courage to respond authentically to the change and growth life demanded as it evolved them.

Who are your heroes and heroines, and what have they inspired in you?

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