Sunday, August 10, 2008

Elegy (2008) РSir Ben Kingsley, Pen̩lope Cruz

During our time when increasingly sophisticated technologies in public and medical health are enabling us to live longer, when the number of elderly persons is growing relative to non-elderly persons, when the age of exit from employment is being delayed and the elderly are pursuing interests around more active forms of retirement, we can expect new identities of ageing to begin surfacing upon the broader cultural narrative. Elegy tells the story of one such identity; forecasting the sexualisation of older persons in popular culture.

Sir Ben Kingsley plays Professor David Kepesh, whose literary fame has caught the attention of a stunning pupil from Cuba, Carolyn, played by Penélope Cruz. The passion that David and Carolyn share for one another unfolds rather quickly and the audience witnesses the first of many episodes of on-screen intercourse between one of Hollywood’s wisest and one of Hollywood’s finest. Carolyn is smitten. David cannot fathom how a much younger man will not eventually snatch Carolyn away. Although David is a terribly confident and independent man, his insecurities about his age relative to Carolyn eventually generate, within David, immense possessiveness over Carolyn. The two protagonists quickly rise above David’s possessiveness and confront his insecurities, before enduring a falling out with one another. Near the end of the film, the two reunite. Carolyn re-enters the plot in the midst of new life circumstances that make her feel rather ‘damaged’ and aged a good; throwing the sexuality of ageing into relief.

At first, the sight of a bare-chested, formerly knighted, and 65-year-old Kingsley, hungrily worshipping the supple breasts of one Miss Spanish Beauty, can be rather unsettling. Some scenes also posit Kingsley opposite 49-year-old Patricia Clarkson in considerably compromising positions. The sex is hardly geriatric, hardly comedic; unquestionably erotic. Elegy pushes the boundaries on whom and what we might soon begin accepting to be legitimately sexual.

Upon his professorial platform, the character David contends that no book, no painting, nor any artefact of culture remains constant over time. Our interpretations change in line with new contexts, new experiences, and new learnings. Similar to such reinterpretations over time, I suspect that Elegy’s edgy depiction of sexuality and ageing will reappear more commonplace in 10 to 15 years, when the ‘elderly’ and their emergent sexual identities are more abound and among us. The same old dudes who have sex on-screen today will appear far less taboo and possibly more appealing tomorrow.

*image courtesy of