Insightful Truths about "The Disneyland of Retirement"
Some Kind of Heaven is a documentary that takes place in The Villages, a huge retirement community in central Florida. As a Floridian, I am very familiar with The Villages and its reputation as a geriatric "party central". Billboards all along I-75 advertise the good times and good life to be had there. So I was especially interested in how life at The Villages would be portrayed in this film. On the surface, it seems like it might actually be "some kind of heaven." There are dozens of golf courses, swimming pools, lovely little homes on well-maintained streets, shopping centers, banks - it's a community you never have to leave if you don't want to. Every day presents the opportunity to join in on social activity, take up a new hobby, or simply ride around in a customized golf cart. But we quickly get underneath the happy surface as the documentary focuses in on the lives of four residents for whom The Villages hasn't quite lived up to the dream.
Anne and Reggie have been married for 47 years, and looked forward to a happy retirement life. But Reggie got lost somewhere along the way, both to dementia and to the pursuit of drugs. It is up to Anne to try to bring him back, and help him out of a drug charge he finds himself facing. David is not actually a resident of The Villages, but lives in his motor home and is cruising around the community looking for a woman who will let him move in with her. He is running out of money and needs to find someone quickly. Barbara is a widow who moved to The Villages from Massachusetts with her husband, who died shortly afterwards. She is lonely, longing to move back home, but can't afford to relocate. She is the only one of the four who is still working, holding down a full-time job at the community rehab center.
Cinematographer David Bolen does an excellent job of portraying the dichotomy between the image of this community and the reality being experienced by some of its residents. We see sweeping views of beautiful sunsets, pristine golf courses, and large outdoor party areas filled with twinkling lights and seemingly happy retirees. Then the camera focuses on someone like Barbara, cautiously approaching the dance floor and dancing by herself. We see people talking and laughing in their homes, and then David trying to sleep on the cramped couch in his motor home. We switch back and forth between Reggie having a strange drug trip on the golf course and Anne back at home decorating their house for their wedding anniversary. The themes of longing and disillusionment become clearer with each new challenge encountered by our four main characters.
There is some welcome humor to the film as well. The dance classes, drama lessons, synchronized swimming sessions and similar forms of entertainment make us laugh. David's antics in finding a woman keep us chuckling at his audacity. But these moments also also make us wonder what really constitutes happiness. How many new activities do we need to feel good about ourselves and believe we are living the life we worked so hard for throughout our lives? Do these activities give us joy and fulfillment or just help us pass the time? Is there something else that makes life worth living? Director Lance Oppenheim does an admirable job of bringing those questions to the forefront as we consider the irony of unfulfilled desire in the midst of the "Disneyland of retirement". I walked away from the film with a sadness for the people who seemed to be just filling empty hours with no greater sense of purpose or meaning.
Oppenheim clearly made his point about his character's disconnect with the life they expected at The Villages. However, he could have could have taken this message even further. It would have been interesting to know how many other residents found this life less than satisfying, or to hear more from those for whom it had fulfilled all their dreams. Are there more people like these four residents, or are they just outliers? My sense is that their views are more common than the promoters of The Villages would like to admit. Finding out whether this was true would make this film an even more useful commentary on the aging population in our country.
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