To borrow a quote from Bette Davis, “growing old is not for sissies.” In the film “Quartet,” we experience what it is like to face not only the experience of growing older but also of gradually losing the identity tied to the fame of a musician which has now long-since faded in the eyes of a previously endearing public.
Directed by Dustin Hoffman and starring the incomparable Maggie Smith, who is currently gaining worldwide adoration as the elderly dowager Duchess Grantham in the British series “Downton Abbey”, this is a charming story of facing life in our later years and coming to re-discover what it is that brings love and joy into our lives. Rounding out the cast are a number of aging professional musicians who have performed on the world stage.
Jean Horton (Maggie Smith) is in the transition of having lived life on her own and now having to move into a home for aging musicians. Her loss of voice and identity as a world-renown operatic singer is compounded by her loss of dignity resulting from having to accept charity to even have a roof over her head. Her pride won’t allow her to accept her place in life with grace, but rather each day is a series of degrading reminders of how far the mighty hath fallen.
While Jean struggles with her life’s journey, her new home is filled with others who have learned to live with their memories of the past while enjoying the present. Part of their enjoyment comes from an annual event where they put on a series of musical performances for the community in honor of Verdi’s birthday.
Among those in the home are three other musicians who once graced the stage with Jean, including her fiancé of some years ago, which was a relationship that ended badly. When Jean’s former lover and operatic partner, Reginald Paget (Sir Thomas Courtenay), finds out who their new housemate is, he is livid. To add insult to his injury, the rest of the musicians think that it would be a marvelous attraction to their annual fundraiser if the old quartet, including Jean and Reggie, got back together.
Without spoiling the plot, each participant in this charming drama has to face themselves in the mirror and ask questions, seek forgiveness, and determine what will make them happy for the remaining days that they have on this earth. Needless to say, hope springs eternal and the annual Verdi birthday party is a huge success. The end result will bring a smile to your face and a tear in your eye.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. What do you think would make growing older easier?
2. On what is your own sense of identity based? Will you lose that as you age, and if so what are you doing now to prepare for this loss?
3. Do you have any relationship difficulties in your past that you would like to heal before you die?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.