There are two Harrison Fords inside Indiana Jones: The Dial of Destiny: a digitally-aged adventurer who battles the Nazis over looted artifacts in 1944, and a retired college professor who reluctantly returns to the fast-paced life of pursuit in 1969. The one who gets the movie’s shirtless scene? That would be 1969 Indy, played by today’s Ford, now 80, who wakes up in boxers and walks through Indy’s New York apartment.
The scene isn’t played for cheap, age jokes, nor does it look like Ford spent months injecting growth hormones or recovering from invasive aesthetic treatments to prepare. No, this Indy looks like his handsome self, only older, like life kicked him a little bit, as it does when any of us are lucky enough to make it to 70 and above. And this image of a movie star we’ve seen since his beautiful childhood is allowed to age is rare and welcome. Complimenting his performance in the film at the film’s press conference, Ford joked, “I’m blessed to have this body.” Thank you for noticing.”
One of the last publicly acceptable forms of bias in Hollywood is ageism, where people who wouldn’t think of openly demeaning someone’s gender, race, or sexuality feel comfortable dropping words like “dude,” the changing insulting an actor’s face or physique or suggesting that it’s time for a writer or company executive to hang it.
France has always had a more, well, mature view of aging than the US, and an ideal place to find an alternative worldview when it comes to aging is at the Cannes Film Festival, where this year stars like Ford , Helen Mirren, Michael Douglas and Catherine Deneuve blow like a warm breeze from the Riviera to show the public a picture of life after 70 that reflects beauty, fun and joy.
“I’m even older than the festival,” mused 78-year-old Douglas, as he accepted an honorary Pale d’Or at the opening ceremony, after audiences had seen a reel of his roles in films like Wall Street, Basic instinct And Behind the candlestick. (At age 76, the festival itself is just reaching its peak.)
Mirren, 77, on hand as a L’Oréal ambassador, walked the red carpet opening night with newly dyed blue-and-purple hair, coordinated with her custom Del Core taffeta blue dress, and fluttering a bamboo fan that reads “#WorthIt ,” a nod to the L’Oréal Paris tagline. Some who followed the festival online misinterpreted Mirren’s fan as a statement about Johnny Depp, whose film, Joan of Barry, opened Cannes, but the actress had a more practical explanation: “I picked up a fan because I was hot,” she said. If Mirren made a political statement, it was the way she got blue hair back, once an insulting way to describe an older woman. For young people, blue hair has been a cool counter-culture for years, worn by young celebrities like Billie Eilish and Ciara. On Mirren, it’s a punk rock punch in the mouth for anyone who expects older women to be invisible.
Deneuve, whose 1968 image in Alain Cavalier’s La Chamade (heartbeat) graces this year’s official Cannes bill and looms over the Palais with a detached glamor, opened the festival with the reading of a poem, “Hope”, by the Ukrainian poet Lesya Ukrainka, acknowledging the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the other side of Europe. At the age of 79, Deneuve has made nine films in the past five years.
The reason that matters, and isn’t just a cute “let’s pat grandma on the head” sentiment, is that it’s so rare. According to a USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study released in February, of the top 100 highest-grossing films to be released in 2022, only 10 had a woman age 45 or older at the time of theatrical release as lead or co-starring roles; In 35 of those films, a man in the same age category was depicted. (As with the rest of civilization, Hollywood is crueler to women.) The Annenberg study doesn’t break down that over-45 demographic any further, to see how often over-70 actors direct the action. However, ignoring those actors, as well as the writers, directors, producers and artisans with that kind of life experience, is a loss to the film industry and to the wider culture.
Martin Scorsese, 80, attending the festival to premiere his new film, Killers of the flower moontold recently deadline that he feels most creatively engaged, just as he also feels the ticking clock of his own mortality. “I want to tell stories, and there’s no more time,” Scorsese said. At least we can pause for a moment in Cannes.