The cure for aging is shown from the intriguing angle of the strange men who seek it.
The science of aging seems straight forward enough. We get old, we deteriorate. There are those who try their hardest to fight the appearance of aging, and those who work hard to delay aging on their bodies, but it’s not often we hear of aging as though it’s some sort of disease with a cure. As they say, the only things for sure in this life are death and taxes, so dying is one of those inevitabilities we may fear, but that eventually we must accept. Not Bill Andrews and Aubrey de Grey. These two men, the first an American scientist, the second a theoretical biologist, have devoted their lives to finding the cure for aging. Following two radically different methods, the two men disclose their personal and scientific attempts to find the cure for what may might call the “natural way of things.”
Bill Andrews is a marathon runner. Make that an extreme marathon runner. He doesn’t just run 26 miles, he runs 50. He runs in the Himalayas. He runs everywhere. His body reflecting the toned condition perpetuated by such a routine. Aubrey de Grey is lanky with a preposterously long and thick beard. He guzzles beer by the pint as he waxes scientific to anyone who will listen, never missing a beat. He rides his bike everywhere and openly lounges in the nude with his wife, almost 30 years his senior. Both men are doctors and leaders in the field of gerontology, and they certainly do go on to explain their diverse explanations for aging and their differing theories on what might cure it, but The Immortalists spends little time trying to explain the science involved with these two men’s work, preferring to gawk at the two men themselves and their particularly interesting lifestyles.
While Andrews and de Grey are certainly intriguing, the lack of scientific explanation only adds to the difficulty in taking either of them seriously. While a quick Google search reveals both have contributed greatly to the discussion of aging and the potential cures that could come from such science, not least of which is cancer, The Immortalists treats their arena as more of a circus. And if filmmakers David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg are unable to take their own subjects seriously, how can we?
In their defense, these two men do seem to exhibit certain traits that make them seem almost Freudian in their motivations. Andrews talks about having been engaged 5 times in his life and each time having called it off a few days into it. It’s a big deal that in the film he proposes to, and then marries, his long-time girlfriend. De Grey is even more Peter Pan syndrome-like with his devotion to beer drinking, and his straightforwardness about his sexuality. When later in the film, after already discussing the difficulty of marriage and how he and his happy wife must be doing something truly special to still be together, he switches gears and claims that polyamory is the key to happiness. Much to the chagrin of his stilted wife who interviews on-screen that that is “just not her scene.”
Coincidence that each of these men struggles with commitment and is overly obsessed with fighting death? I think not. Not to minimize their work and contributions to science, but at the very least this sort of dedication seems to take a predispositioned kind of person. More telling is that eventually in his interview, after a fair amount of time has passed since the time period of the beginning of the documentary, de Grey mentions wanting to “settle” down in the polygamist community in California he’s founded. It reeks of a man who doesn’t seem to accept that not all good things are meant to last. That a life spent longer in health and to as full an extent as possible is ideal, but should we truly aim for a deathless existence? Are we built innately for such a life?
The film leaves us pondering such musings, not necessarily offering much in the way of how much closer we are toward a cure for aging. It’s an incomplete documentary, lacking in a few elements that would have made it more informational and more interesting, but as a character study, it’s definitely a curious if not surprising look at the psyches of two men devoted to what many would consider the greatest white whale hunt possible.
The Immortalists opens in LA December 11 before premiering on GaiamTV and on VOD in early 2015.