In our current youth-obsessed society, stories about the lives of the old individuals are not very common; thus, when movies on old age are released, they are fraught with social meaning. The 1993 American comedy movie, the Grumpy Old Men, is one of these (Burr, 1994).
The movie is a complete interdisciplinary content in social gerontology as it explores various issues related to old age and scrutinizes changes in social roles, relationships as well as all the processes that take place as the age of individuals’ advances. The superb comedy movie also looks at the major life changes, such as retirement and life of widowhood, transformations in living arrangements, and economic and political issues that define the habits of the old people in the society.
The movie tells of the life of two men, John Gustafson (Jack Lemmon) and Max Goldman (Walter Matthau), who have enjoyed a strong bond of kinship for the most period of their lives. The lifelong friends are living as neighbors and they frequently trade jibes on one another.
Widowed and retired, the two main actors in the movie sustain a relationship that seems to be nothing more than a give and take of acerbic cynicism. As the film starts, John and Max are seen to be practicing the disengagement theory of aging as both are depicted as grumpy and old hermits (Quadagno, 2011).
Withdrawn from the society, they spend their seemingly boring and lonely lives competing and arguing with one another over a number of issues. And according to institutionalization theory, John and Max were living secluded lives because the American society had been embedded by the thought that old people should live a quiet life away from the normal activities of everyday life. Consequently, their lives in old age followed this established norm.
However, the coming of Ariel Truax (Ann-Margret) into the neighborhood drags the two friends into the activity theory of life. Due to John’s and Max’s inner fears of leaving their comfortable, yet boring lives, they are slow to accept the friendship of Ariel and it takes the efforts of their friend, Chuck (Ossie Davis), to convince them otherwise.
Thereafter, both John and Max start competing for Ariel’s love. This activity way of life makes the two men to remember the feelings they had when they were young and it shows their need for intimacy and romance.
Soon, John and Max demonstrate dementia. In their quest for Ariel’s love, a wedge is further driven between them as they continue their constant quarrels uncontrolled. In this, they show that they are not able to think properly so as to solve their lifelong problems with one another. Furthermore, they are unable to control their emotions, become irritated quickly, and sometimes see things that are not even there.
The movie is very reflective of the current society. Even though it was mainly focused on the American society, it represents how aging is dealt with around the world. As people age in many places around the world, they face many changes in terms of their life habits. Flooded with numerous one-liners, ideal release of abuses, and never-ending humorous scenes, Grumpy Old Men is realistic in its portrayal of transformations in social roles, relationships and the biological as well as the psychological processes that take place during aging.
Burr, T. (1994, February). Grumpy Old Men. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved from
Quadagno, J. S. (2011). Aging and the life course: an introduction to social gerontology. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.