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How to Live Forever

July 30, 2011
How to Live Forever

Who wants to live forever? Filmmaker Mark Wexler just might. After the death of his mother and his fiftieth birthday, Wexler starts to feel like he might not be ready for what lies ahead, and so he starts investigating How to Live Forever.

By and large, Wexler isn’t really concerned with living “forever” so much as he is as with pushing at the envelope a bit, and at meeting and talking with people who have done just that. Most of his interviewee’s ages are displayed on-screen, and many of them run into their eighties, nineties, or even past the hundred-year mark. And he’s not so much concerned with how they keep themselves alive physically as how they think about growing older. Some of the pithiest lines on this topic come from the “philosophy of life” round which replaces the swimsuit competition in the Ms. Senior America pageant.

And then there are the celebrities; Jack LaLanne — still alive and kicking at 94 at the time of his interview — endorses the same diet and exercise as always, right down to the whole-produce juicing. Suzanne Somers is evidently now pushing hormone replacement therapies, and looks forward to recapping the role of Chrissy Snow, although for some reason as a particularly smart woman this time. And Phyllis Diller advocates for laughter, accompanied by some of her aging-related stand-up routines.

Diller isn’t alone; Dr. Madan Kataria suggests laughter is the key to longevity, and he doesn’t even insist it come from humor. His “Laughter Yoga” consists of breathing exercises and intentional bouts of laughter, which I’ll admit can be contagious despite itself when watching a group.

But then there are those who defy common wisdom and still beat the odds. Jeanne Calment made it to 122 with her love of port and chocolate intact, and kept up with the Gauloises until she was 117. Eleanor Wasson may have been a vegetarian, but she drank enough vodka martinis to pickle herself. And Buster Martin ran the London marathon after his 90th birthday — possibly after his 100th — drinking no water, but taking five pauses for a smoke and a pint.

What if you really do want to live forever? That’s where gerontologists like Aubrey de Grey come in, as well as futurists like Ray Kurzweil. One avenue might be cryonics — either as a whole or as a disembodied brain — at a facility like those run by Alcor. After all, if you’re sure that an incredibly long life is a good thing, an incredibly long life with a bit of a hiatus in the middle is surely almost as good.

Through it all, we never can tell exactly what Wexler is thinking. He’s pleasant and personable, never rolling his eyes or leaping in with enthusiasm. He simply goes out and grabs all the information he can, and presents it for us to decide what we think. And his sense of humor makes it fun to watch an otherwise hazily-structured series of these investigations.

But is living forever actually a good thing? Why is more life an unquestioned good? Glossing over the tremendous demographic and societal changes that would have to come with functional immortality — especially given just the one planet — is it even desirable at an individual level? Maybe we should be focusing more on the quality of life than on mere quantity. After all, what good are a dozen extra years if you can’t spend them eating the occasional Oki Dog?

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Text: again, if it applies to documentaries, fail.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Hunt permalink
    July 31, 2011 04:19

    I don’t think more life is an unquestioned good in that many people very much question it, for instance the political right, or almost every religious sect (mortal life). Even now, there are those who don’t think they have any responsibility toward the elderly, especially as what is considered elderly is extended further and further to advanced ages.

    The question as to limited resources will probably remain relevant until, for instance, we travel into the galaxy and colonize other star systems, a long way off. I fear that Alcor adherents will more probably one day meet the incinerator than the comforting arms of an advanced Utopian future, but there’s really no way to tell. We have no way to predict the distant future. It may well be that Alcor investors will be subsumed in some kind of mass computational consciousness and achieve a kind of disembodied, heavenly, immortality, at least until someone pulls the plug.

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