Greg and Zanna watch something that inevitably reminds them of lockdown.
Infinite sadness: 5
Watching Some Kind of Heaven in this interminable lockdown was depressing. I couldn't help but draw parallels between us and the residents of Florida's The Villages, and not in a good way. The purpose-built town is described as Disneyland for retirees but appears more like a monotonous holding bay for death. While there's much more on offer for them than us, from margarita clubs to acting classes to synchronised swimming, it has such a sense of sameness - no diversity of ethnicity, age, architecture, or even temperature - that it appeared almost as mind-numbing as the four walls of our house. The perky residents proselytising that there's no need to ever leave The Villages made me clammy, short of breath and inexplicably itchy on the soles of my feet.
These people aren't trapped in The Villages; they're trapped in The Villages state of mind: that heaven is a place where everyone looks like you and you'll never experience negative emotions again. It's an impossible promise.
Were it filmed post-pandemic, the documentary would probably paint an even bleaker picture: trapped in a paradise that's closed until further notice. However, even pre-pandemic, film-maker Lance Oppenheim wasn't aiming to tell the story of retirement bliss that appears in the promotional materials. The documentary follows a number of people, none of whom are enjoying their stay at "Disneyland".
Reggie is experimenting with drugs and alternative lifestyle practices - which is tormenting his wife Anne - and it's hard to tell whether he's ascending towards enlightenment or descending into dementia. Barbara, recently widowed, is looking for love and, although The Villages has 130,000 residents, her attempts to meet new people are steeped in loneliness and disappointment. Dennis lives in his van and owes more than US$20,000 for a DUI charge in California. He wants to find a tolerable, well-off woman who'll take him in. He's repugnant in so many ways and yet I'm sad for him too - he doesn't know how to love.
It's a poignant film and the naturalistic visual style and captivating portraits of worn faces in their habitat give it an overall sense of melancholy. Still, I wonder whether I would have a more hopeful view of these people and ̧The Villages in general were it not for long-term lockdown clouding my judgment with existential dread. Greg concluded that the final shot of Barbara dancing alone in the square showed personal growth and burgeoning contentment. I saw misery and heartache. That probably says more about us than it does about Barbara.
There's a lot of dancing in this documentary about The Villages - surely the world's largest and most frightening retirement community - too much dancing, when you consider the quality of the dancing and the fact it's not a dance movie. It even finishes with a strangely long dance sequence, in one of the community's faux-traditional town squares. That sequence was designed, apparently, to say something about one of the central characters, but my eye was drawn to a couple dancing immediately to the right of her, particularly to the male of the pair, who was wearing ugly sneakers with long white socks, shorts, belt, and tucked-in golf shirt. His dancing was bad and suspiciously hip-driven, even though it was daytime and, although his body seemed to be expressing joy, watching him left me with a great sadness.
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As the camera pulled back and the surprisingly high-powered collection of names (really just Darren Aronofsky, I guess) in the credits rolled, Zanna asked for my thoughts. I said: "I find it depressing seeing people dressed like they're from the 80s dancing badly."
"Okay," she said doubtfully, "That seems like a stupid critique."
She was right, although I had intended it to be insightful, to capture, in microcosm, the feeling of off-centredness, of not-quite-rightness about everyone and everything in the documentary, and presumably The Villages as a whole. But I couldn't, or didn't feel up to it. So I asked her for her thoughts.
Inevitably, they reverted to lockdown. It wasn't her fault. Given long enough, any current conversation will get there eventually. Mine did in this very column last week.
"It's like lockdown," she said. "You're stuck in this place and you can never get out."
The obvious flaw in her argument was that it's very easy to get out of The Villages - nobody is stopped from coming or going. But I didn't think of that argument fast enough. What I thought about instead was the idea of stuckness and the fact we are all stuck somewhere. We are all stuck, for instance, on Earth. What matters is less to do with freedom than the ability to feel contentment in the place in which you're stuck.
But I had barely started in on this line of argument when I accidentally farted. As the smell began to intensify and drift, Zanna said, "That's horrendous," got up off the couch and went to bed.
Some Kind of Heaven is now streaming on DocPlay