Friday, November 19, 2010

RED -- dealing with retirement and aging

Director: Robert Schwentke, 2010. (PG-13)

Retired. Most of us out of school give a glimmer of thought to the idea of future retirement. What will it be like? Days filled with fun activities? Slow and lazy days by the pool? Endless rounds of golf? Or perhaps a long, laborious descent into deteriorating health. Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and his team of retirees show us different approaches to retirement, but reunite for a post-retirement blast of black-ops fun.

At the start of RED, we meet Frank, an early retiree from government work. He is clearly lonely and bored. He sits in his Cleveland home and tears up his retirement checks so he can call Sarah (Mary Louise Parker), his pension planner in Kansas and flirt with her over the phone. That is the highlight of his week. Apart from this he reads pulp romance fiction as conversation starters for his calls to Sarah. What a life!

But Frank's government work was as a CIA killer. So, it is not completely surprising when one night a team of wet-work assassins shows up at his house to kill him. Retired he might be, but Frank is no slouch. At 55 he can easily handle the odd killer or three. Even when the backups fire machine guns redecorating his house a la swiss cheese, he takes care of them and escapes. His concern is for Sarah, who he fears may appear on the killer's list, since he has called her so much.

With this beginning, Frank journeys to Kansas, meets and kidnaps Sarah, for her own good, and sets about regathering his old CIA team. All are retired, but in different stages of retirement. They, like Frank, are RED: Retired and Extremely Dangerous.

This team includes Victoria (Helen Mirren), the former British spy now turned into a Martha Stewart type of bed-and-breakfast owner; Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich, Secretariat), a paranoid recluse who trusts no one and carries a pink pig with him for protection; Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman, Invictus), the kindly killer who is dying of cancer; and even garnering support from former Russian spy and enemy Ivan Simanov (Brian Cox). Of course Sarah, the newcomer who warms up to Frank, as expected. Set against them is current CIA agent William Cooper (Karl Urban, Star Trek) and his handler-boss Cynthia Wilkes (Rebecca Pidgeon). This is quite a cast of seasoned actors, which makes this lightweight film so appealing. There is even a cameo for Ernest Borgnine, himself 93 in real-life.

As superficial as this is, RED does bring up the issue of retirement and aging and puts it squarely into our consciousness. For a society that venerates the young, the old are a forgotten and often ignored demographic. So, what do we see?

Frank is bored. His life seems to lack purpose. His mission is accomplished, and now what? Without someone to love and something to live for, life becomes mundane and dreary. Frank's sole solace is Sarah and he does not even really know her. For those of us fortunate enough to retire alongside a loving spouse, we can enjoy the time we can spend together in our golden years. Yet, having a purpose can amplify this enjoyment in our waning days.

Victoria offers the perspective of a second career or vocation after retirement. She has energy to spare and is not prepared to descend into pulp fiction. She has found a purpose. For some, a second career may prove a critical necessity economically, and we see these people in blue shirts at Wal-Mart. But for Christians we might find retirement an opportunity to serve in missions work overseas, or even in a rescue mission downtown. Our spare time can be converted into useful service for those who have genuine needs. This is something Jesus would be pleased with.

Marvin and Joe offer more negative perspectives on retirement. With age comes mental changes, such as Alzheimer's (or Marvin's paranoia), or bodily breakdown, such as strokes and cancer (or simply the aches and pains of muscle loss and lack of mobility). These bring a dependency we have not known since early childhood. Here, too, is an opportunity, but one we may not welcome. It is the opportunity to see ourselves dependent on others and ultimately God himself. We learn humility in realizing others must do for us what we once did for them. We see parents diapered by their adult children. Any earlier pride will be broken through this. Though we are immortal in soul and spirit, our bodies are mortal this side of eternity.

The movie moves along in a fairly linear fashion, each
action sequence and character introduction leading to the next. There are no major twists and a somewhat loose and disappointing conclusion. But the journey is worth it. Frank may be Retired and Extremely Dangerous. But this film is itself RED: Ridiculous but Entertaining Despite this.

Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs

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