REVIEW: The Immortalists

Reviewed by Mike Palovcsik

What would be an interesting companion piece to Rent-A-Family, a story of a man who does not want to live, would be this documentary, the story of two men trying to find the way to live forever (the fourth movie I saw at the Wisconsin Film Festival). The filmmakers follow Bill and Aubrey through a brief period in their professional lives, as they explain why it is important to cure the problem of aging (the unnecessary cause of most deaths). Unsurprisingly, both of these men are highly eccentric, and both are highly intelligent. Aubrey is from England, a Ph.D., a biomedical gerontologist, has a wife 16 years his senior, a deceased mother who was a compulsive hoarder, a heavy beer-drinking habit, and a beard that rivals the Oak Ridge Boys. Bill is from Nevada, also a Ph.D., a molecular biologist, has a father dying of Alzheimer's, a quest to run an ultra-marathon in the Himalayas that has nearly killed him multiple times, and a bad habit of getting engaged and then calling it off immediately. Both men use their scientific backgrounds to manage research on how to reverse the effects of aging, and both believe that the "cure" is well within our reach. Aubrey has even said that the first person who will live to the age of 1,000 is alive today, and probably in their sixties.

These men are trying to help you live forever                                                                  These men made a movie about it

These men are trying to help you live forever                                                                  These men made a movie about it

What sounds like the professorial statements of people trying to convince themselves of good news more than convince others of good news did, actually give me pause. Had a scientist said in 1919 that in 50 years a man would walk on the moon, or said in 1955 that in 50 years you would carry your telephone in your pocket, and that same device would take crystal-clear color pictures and videos (with sound!), they would have been laughed out of the room. Science is progressing at an exponential rate, and to dismiss the concept of anti-aging (especially since it has already been tested on mice at Harvard), would be naive. Whether or not immortality is a good thing is a debate worth having. I appreciate that as documentarians, directors David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg do not take a side on the issue as to whether man truly SHOULD live forever, but present different sides of that debate and let the audience decide for themselves. I was interested to learn in a post-screening Q&A that they do, in fact, have opinions on the subject, and that their feelings were altered throughout the filming of this story.

What worked:

  • Pros and cons of a world where man doesn't age were presented in equal part, letting the viewer decide what side of the argument they are on
  • The science behind anti-aging was presented in a way that didn't make me feel confused...or "talked down to"
  • Presenting the different approaches used by the two scientists in their research, and their "competition" with one another, added a humorous, human element to the subject

What didn't work:

  • The original music seemed all over the place, using every made-for-television scoring trick in the book.
  • Whoa. Did we need a scene where Aubrey and his wife get nude and frisky outdoors? It had nothing to do with the subject matter at all, and just was not good.
  • Watching Bill nearly kill himself running that ridiculous ultramarathon did not make me feel that his determination was awesome, rather foolhardy.

Brass Tacks

Recently premiered at South by Southwest, The Immortalists was a well-made film about a topic that we may indeed need to have serious conversations about in the not-too-distant future.

As a film that helps you understand the moral issues of something other than the U.S. waging war in the Middle East: A-

As a story to keep your interest piqued: B