If I were to ask you – How are senior citizens typically portrayed in the movies? – What would come to mind?
Maybe you’d think of a sweet grandmother, taking care of their grandchildren. Maybe you’d think of a sad movie, where a senior is sick, dying, victimized, or struggling with memory. Maybe you think of a comedy movie filled with slapstick or crude humor, made even more comical because the person carrying out the joke was “old” and thus defying our expectations that this generation is meek, mild, weak, stuffy, and proper. Most of these characters are on the sidelines without fully developed characters, their needs and desires unspoken.
If you are ready for a movie where Senior Citizens finally get to take a front seat, look no further than “The Intern”.
The Intern focuses on a modern online fashion business and their Obsessive Compulsive, over-worked Founder, Jules Ostin, played by Anne Hathaway. The company has decided to reach out to the community by offering a “Senior Intern” program which allows senior citizens to reenter the workforce at this booming start up. Seventy year-old Ben Whittaker, played by Robert DeNiro, is hired as one of the four “Senior Interns” and is assigned the coveted job of shadowing the founder herself.
At first, we see Jules reject Ben’s offer to lighten her load, as she does with many around her. However Ben’s quiet, consistent, and steadfast loyalty wins her over. Throughout the film, we see Ben evolve from a gimmick or a side show into the most influential partner in the young CEO’s life. He guides her through major personal and business decisions and helps Jules to transform and thrive.
Given the subject matter, I believe that the writers could have taken many different courses with this movie. The tired and most typical would be to lampoon the idea that a 70-year old could re-enter the workforce and not be befuddled by the technology or would be slow to learn. There was not one case where the main character, Ben, was shown as being overwhelmed or stumped by modern technology or unable to tackle modern business principles. It does show him handily using a computer and email, but one of my favorite scenes showed Ben laying out, meticulously, the tools he needed for his daily work such as a calculator and writing utensils, while his mid-twenties co-worker lays out devices and tablets. It shows him happily using his “dumb phone” and interestingly, being the only observant one in the room with his head up in a sea of young people with their noses glued to screens.
We are shown time and again that “old-school” business practices are still relevant today, even realizing that the fashion startup is housed in the same building where Ben worked in selling and printing Phone Books for decades. He mentors the younger employees, telling them that you should never leave work before your boss does and to always carry a handkerchief. He identifies needs and solves problems on his own, to the delight of his boss. This is a serious job to Ben, and any time someone gave him a pass or told him to take it easy because of his age, Ben didn’t take the bait. He proved that you don’t have to be an expert in a field in order to make a difference. We don’t see him learning about fashion per se, or even needing to, but he was able to make a significant contribution to the business using his own decades of experience.
We also get to see Ben, a widower, begin a significant romantic relationship. While part of his attraction was made humorous (likely earning the movie’s PG-13 rating), we are charmed with a bit of romance and observe the benefits of seniors finding a second love. He and his love interest have a very vibrant, lighthearted relationship. Using his wisdom on love and marriage, he was able to help guide Jules through personal trials in her life as well. And while he is portrayed as an ethical and honest man, he never judges his younger counterparts or offers unsolicited advice or lectures, as we may have come to expect a senior to do when dealing with younger counterparts.
There are many reasons this movie reminded me why Senior Citizens are so vital to our fast-moving world. One of the best reasons is that Ben’s experience and wisdom allowed him to see Jules and her company for what it really was. He observed, rather than trying to lead or take over, although he was qualified to. And when he had finally proven his worth and it was asked of him, he was able to clearly frame his observations in a most helpful and positive way.
If you’re looking for a fun, heart warming movie that shows seniors in the limelight, grab The Intern.