You couldn’t blame life immortal for thinking it might need a new PR team.
Time after time of late, in TV shows like Forever and Helix, and movies like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and now director Lee Toland Krieger’s The Age of Adaline, the idea of living forever has not exactly had the most glowing of reviews handed down to it.
Once lauded as a wondrous thing, a chance to cheat death and endure, unchanged, through the ages, Herodotus’ much-fabled fountain of youth is now largely seen as a poisoned chalice, a double-edged sword of dubious value.
This is certainly how Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively, Gossip Girl), curiously altered during a snowfall-triggered car accident in 1937 so that she remains an eternally-youthful 29 year old, views her “gift” of immortality.
More a blessing than a curse, it has forced her to spend her entire life on the run, bolting at the first sign of anyone getting close to her, where they might discern that she is not, even remotely, like the mere mortals around her.
This has led to an understandably closed off life, as Adaline, playing her emotional cards close to her chest by self-perceived necessity, finds herself unable, or as it turns out when true love once again comes calling in the form of the dashing renaissance man Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman, Orphan Black), unwilling to let anyone become privy to her uncomfortable secret, save for her devoted daughter Flemming (Ellen Burstyn).
Played with a convincing intensity by Blake Lively who manages to project pain, longing and decades-long sense of resignation to her fate, often in one achingly sad shot, through eye movements or facial gestures alone, Adaline is a tortured soul, cut off from the world around her, by both circumstance and choice, unable to fully partake with any real joy in the supposed fruits of her magically-eternal existence.
Her life is not a playground of indulgent opportunities and god-like omnipotence – save for the ability her longevity affords her to wait patiently for potentially lucrative long term investments to pay off – but rather a prison of sorts, a place where time passes while she watches everyone she loves and everything she cares decay and eventually disappear around her.
All this changes in the way only grandly romantic narratives can allow for, and make no mistake the script by J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz is suffused with all the fairytale wonder and charm you could ask for, when internet millionaire and heart-of-gold philanthropist Ellis Jones sweeps Adaline, rather reluctantly, off her feet.
Though she initially fights this chance to be loved and known for who she is – it is only at the urging of her daughter, who has had to spend much of her life watching her mother from afar – she must finally, and in suitably dramatic circumstances, make a choice about the kind of life she wants to live.
It turns out that Adaline, convinced she is cursed beyond measure and strait-jacketer into a life devoid of the milk of human kindness, actually does have a choice, though for much of the film she is unable to appreciate this is the case.
Accompanied by the requisite grandly romantic visuals – the cinematography by David Lanzenberg is breathtakingly and suitably beautiful; he somehow manages to make the snowy car accident which defines Adaline’s life look like artistic expression more than a violent upending of the status quo – The Age of Adaline is a case study in the perils of more is more and the unexpectedly deleterious effect it can have on the human soul.
But, rather surprisingly for a movie possessed of an admittedly slight but deeply engaging narrative and an occasionally limited but engrossing perspective – much of the film is consumed with telling Adaline’s story in newsreel-like flashbacks so we better understand her current emotional malaise – the film has a great deal to say about self-determination, free will and the power of choice, even when it appears there are none to be entertained.
As the film gather paces in its second half, and Adaline’s considerable past and in-the-balance present come crashing together in wholly unforeseen ways, The Age of Adaline explores with more sensitivity and insight than you might rightly expect whether it is possible to find true love and happiness with someone else when you utterly and completely set apart from them.
It’s no surprise in a movie that telegraphs its boldly romantic credentials from almost the first frame that its answer is a resounding yes but it’s the way The Age of Adaline navigates its way to its happily-ever-after conclusion, one that comes with more surprises than its conventional set-up and unfurling might suggest, that will delight anyone with even a hint of a beating heart and a mind to ponder the limitless possibilities that life, eternal or otherwise, can throw up when you might least expect it.