Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.
Genre: Musical/comedy/drama (2012)
Downtown Abbey meets The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Perhaps the birth of a new genre: film gris, or ‘grey film’?
Rating: PG-13 brief strong language, suggestive humor
Length: 98 minutes
Starring: Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins, Billy Connolly, Michael Gambon
Director: Directorial debut by Dustin Hoffman
Script: Ronald Harwood (originally a stage play)
Lifelong friends Wilf and Reggie together with former colleague Cissy, are residents of Beecham House, a home for retired musicians. Every year on Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday, the residents unite to give a fundraising concert. But when Jean Horton, a former grande dame of the opera fallen on hard times, also Reggie’s ex-wife and the fourth and most celebrated member of their former quartet, moves into the home to everyone’s surprise, the plans for this year’s concert start to unravel. As old grudges threaten to undermine past glories and theatrical temperaments play havoc with the rehearsal schedule, it becomes apparent that having four of the finest singers in English operatic history under one roof offers no guarantee that the show will go on. Quartet is a wickedly comic film about redefining old age and growing old with hope; demonstrating how art illuminates life and the human spirit remains undimmed even as the brightest stars start to fade. (Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfilms/film/quartet)
Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie:
- What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
- What themes are explored?
- What assumptions were embedded in the story?
- What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
- Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
- Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?
The following provides some particular aspects of the movie that could be explored. Feel free to use these ideas as a catalyst for further discussion and reflection.
Growing old disgracefully, or with dignity, or…..
The film offers a meditation on ageing, appealing particularly to baby boomers and early retirees . The characters include Wilf – delightfully wicked, using the excuse his stroke has removed his ‘radar’ to censor inappropriate comments and his unrelenting flirtatiousness, and Jean – resenting that she must re-locate from her luxury home to a retirement home. The film, in common with others in the ‘grey film’ genre, is a multiple-strand story about older people, strong on character, and exploring themes of ageing and death, and yet ultimately upbeat and celebratory. What stood out for you in this latest contribution to the genre?
Never too late…..
Some people carry personal hurts, humiliations, bitterness and regrets like heavy luggage to be dragged awkwardly through life. It may shape their ‘raison d’etre’ and frame their decisions and priorities, and also rob them of joy and freedom. The movie suggests possibilities for second chances, and transformation of older people with open hearts and open minds. The four main characters must decide whether they want to let go of the fears, errors, and disappointments of the past in order to engage once more with the art that blessed them with beauty and meaning. Setting aside how realistic is the specific resolution and reconciliation in the movie, what are your insights about ‘letting go’ and ‘letting be’ in older age?
Cissy is showing signs of dementia – one moment bright and alert, the next not knowing where she is or what she’s doing. You might have seen friends and family with dementia and know how difficult it can be. ‘Mother and Son’ turned it into a comedy, but it can be very distressing – for the individual and those around them. What are your experiences?
A sea of white hair
In the same way that babies all tend to ‘look the same’, people in older years can sometimes lose the distinctiveness of their younger years. It’s too easy to just see an ‘old person’ with white/grey hair (or dyed hair!), rather than a vital person with the rich experiences of a well lived life. (In addition to the main actors who are ‘the quartet’, there are (real) distinguished musicians and actors who form the rest of the cast. Do stay for the credits at the end to learn about who they are and what they have done in their professional life). How do we give room to hear each other’s stories, and to value experiences and what people have done in younger years? What is your experience?
Losing what has been precious
Ageing carries with it the loss of capacity in various ways – physical and intellectual, as well as specific skills, creativity etc. There will be regrets about what is or has already been lost. Jean’s character, the star soloist, still has the applause of the audience ringing in her ears and still celebrates her numerous encores. But she is also painfully aware that her prime is now past. She treasures the voice she once had – and listens to the vinyl recordings of past triumphs in the privacy of her room. What is your experience, personally or what you see happening with friends and family?
‘Baby boomers’ and early retirees will struggle with giving up independence and to be treated as an ‘old/er person’. Many will relish holding a disposition towards life that is lively, energetic, engaged and curious. A group of friends in Adelaide have talked about organizing a place to live together in older years, supporting each other but living with relative independence. What do you make of the idea of a home for retired musicians, or retired craft workers, or actors, or life long friends……..? What plans to you have?
Music genres – an invitation to explore new things
Reggie, a man of the theatre and fine arts, does a google search on the computer (that in itself provides an opportunity to explore new things), and opens a discussion on the differences between opera and rap with visiting students. He opens himself to learn new things, to make connections. With rap, he announces, a man is stabbed in the back and then talks about it. With opera, a man is stabbed in the back and he opens up with emotion (speaking from his own experience in the arts and in his marriage). How might this scene be indicative of being open to new things, no matter what your age? Discuss.
Old age in the biblical narrative
What stories of older people can you recall in the biblical narrative who shared in God’s activity in the world? There are many examples worth exploring and discussing.
Download pdf file of this resource here© Rev Sandy Boyce 1st January 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church,
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright