We also thought we might gain some insights into the dilemmas of aging in place. After all, the film’s premise is that the couple inhabit a Brooklyn apartment that is indeed five flights up, and they are aging. Unfortunately, Insight, reason, and common sense are entirely lacking in this film.
It’s always amusing to renew our acquaintance with New York City tropes, as in a Woody Allen film – the sort of people who believe that downsizing means buying an apartment in Manhattan or that $10,000 for surgery on an old dog (too old to make it up the stairs) is well spent.
The problem is that the film glamorizes really bad decision-making with respect to aging in place. After rejecting the wholly inappropriate apartment they look at in Manhattan, the couple decides to remain in their five floor walkup. The film portrays this decision as brave, heroic, and romantic – a kind of thinking that is all too common. We are far too prone to think that people who decide to stay where they are and age in place, even though their home is ill-suited for the purpose, are to be admired.
I would like to see the sequel to this film, when Diane or Morgan has to make it upstairs following knee surgery or hip replacement. I would love to see the expression on the face of the Meals on Wheels volunteer when she first looks up the stairwell.
And may God help the Diane and Morgan characters should they ever face debilitating COPD or be confined to a wheel chair. The New York Times reported in June:
“Almost two million people over age 65, or nearly 6 percent of those Americans (excluding nursing home residents), rarely or never leave their homes, researchers recently reported in JAMA Internal Medicine. The homebound far outnumber the 1.4 million residents of nursing homes.”
Some of these homebound seniors regard themselves as “independent,” but in the words of the Times, they are in fact “imprisoned.” People in assisted living get out more than they do. Not surprisingly, imprisoned seniors are sicker and more depressed than others.
Our “Common Sense” seniors will enjoy watching Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman play off one another, but they won’t be taken in by the lesson Five Flights Up purports to offer.