While We’re Young

November 28, 2016

In another witty yet seemingly more polished slice of the affluent side of New York life, where the life problems involve finishing nearly decade old documentaries and deciding on whether to join a family friend at their second home in Connecticut, Noah Baumbach delivers a further anthological piece to his meditation on, not mortality, but aging. First there was Greenberg, which Mr. Ben Stiller also starred in, which had a more light-hearted, less abysmally Wood Allen take on middle aging. And in general, we can appreciate Mr. Baumbach for being made in the same mold as Allen yet less dreary about existence; Baumach’s works are too involved in the dazzling human affairs to be self-aware and angst-ridden about staring into the abyss. Next there was Frances Ha, which was a more direct confrontation with the possibility of failing to self-actualize; of the rarefied strata of humanity (relative to the rest of the globe) that tries to create something for the world yet fails to for one reason or another, and has to face their fear of never becoming anything great compared to their striving peers. Here in this installment, in While We’re Young, it is a further refinement on this dread of what could have been. Of failed potential and the anxiety of being this failure.

The state of being which is failure is the hardest pill to swallow, because it is so immobile to an acute re-direction. It takes on a sense of permanence, which then fills the mind and soul with nothing more than sorrow and bitterness; and when looking at someone much younger taking a path which will inevitably be much more prosperous, there is a sting of jealousy of someone for one having so much more abundance in time to invest their lives properly and also being able to find their life’s path so seamlessly. We only sense this jealousy in the film once the young filmmaker, who idolizes the protagonist played by Mr. Stiller’s contribution to film theory, takes on an upward path with his own film project and receives adoration from the efforts. This adoration is something Mr. Stiller’s character craves if he were honest; but it isn’t conceited to be human. It is more than anything a certain validation of the creative efforts at living life, and why in a base sense popularity is so lusted for.

During this journey of jealousness, Mr. Stiller’s character reflects on his recent life decisions, on how he arrived to his mid-40’s while abdicating the joie de vivre of his newly acquainted aspiring filmmaker and fiancé, whom met him at a film lecture he was providing. His participation in the young filmmaker’s project which becomes the stone in his shoe later, galvanizes him to finish his own work; and further, to re-dedicate himself to doing something rather than nothing. For one reason or another, his life drifted; he became aimless; his aspiring magnum opus became a hex for which he needed remedy from.

During this sense of urgency which he lacked for over a decade, and the film plausibly indicates caused his wife to miss her window for bearing children, he discovers fraudulence on the younger documentarian. But, the horror of horrors, the world does not care about authentic filmmaking. They care about a good story. This bewilderment by Mr. Stiller’s character when facing this reality, that for one there are filmmakers looking to merely bedazzle an audience and that an audience wishes their reality to be more fantastical than authentic, is not taken traumatically. His idealism, in other words, which created such a quagmire for his project’s completion, becomes a private badge of honor. Almost as if he was not born of this world, to appease its residents who clamor for apparitions.

And this is a bit of commentary on not merely contemporary society, as any generation would fancy a more magical realm of clockwork serendipity than what actually is plausible, but the demonstration of wisdom as the solace of getting older. With wisdom, we have by necessity a greater broader perspective on the shaping of the world, and therefore a superior means to control the animal passions which first stirred the older filmmaker to be resentful of the fraud, but then to stand back and recognize that ultimately popularity was not the end he was seeking. He was, in the noblest sense, seeking the truth, and like the philosophers of antiquity, would have to unjustly suffer living in a New York City brownstone anonymously, until his being could be appreciated at a much later stage of history.

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