There are few feelings like the joy of falling in love. For many of us, our fondest memories are those we share with that special someone who makes life feel a little fuller. Spending time with that one person who truly understands you can have a profound impact on how you see the world, but what happens when you lose them? While it’s easy to shut down and write off love altogether, a new film from Netflix suggests that falling in love can be just as beautiful during our golden years.
Our Souls at Night tells the story of Louis (Robert Redford) and Addie (Jane Fonda), two seventy-something neighbors, who have both been through the difficult experience of losing their spouses. As the film begins, both widow and widower have become somewhat withdrawn from society; each stuck in their own rut, carved out by their mundane and repetitious routines. Neither person is miserable, per se, but there is very clearly something missing for them both. That all changes when Addie proposes a radical solution to their mutual problem.
“It’s About Getting Through the Night”
One night, as Louis is half-watching the local weather report, he is surprised by a knock at the door. It turns out to be Addie and, after some awkward small talk, she makes a bold proposal. To Louis’ surprise, Addie invites him to sleep over her house for a night. As she explains, it’s nothing sexual. Instead, it’s just about getting through the night with the familiar feeling of having someone “nice” next to her. By now, they’ve both been on their own for a while and Addie sees no reason to go on being lonely.
However, Louis is less sure. Clearly caught off guard, he is somewhat taken aback by the idea and fumbles through much of the conversation. Despite the fact that they have been neighbors for decades, Louis and Addie are really only casual acquaintances (Louis even addresses her as “Mrs. Moore” before she scolds him and insists that he use her first name). But in the end, he eventually agrees to take some time to consider her proposal.
“I Don’t Want Anybody to Think Anything Bad”
Eventually, Louis agrees to give the arrangement a try, but not without some hesitation. They live in a small town after all, and people are known to talk. On their first night together, Louis insists on using the back door, so as not to arouse suspicion amongst their neighbors. He’s also very careful to keep his new relationship with Addie secret from his coffee friends, who he meets with regularly at the local diner. While Addie isn’t quite as reserved as Louis, she too is hesitant and resists sharing her new relationship with her best friend.
The film adeptly portrays some of the stigma older, unmarried couples often face. No one is outright malicious towards Louis and Addie, but when word of their sleepovers gets out, their relationship is treated as something of a dirty joke by their friends and neighbors. But while the snickering and condescension feel like big issues at first, the pair eventually overcome their embarrassment and boldly step out in the community together. But the real obstacles come into play when family, old wounds and real-life responsibilities interrupt domestic bliss.
“Some Things We Can’t Fix”
Without giving too much away, it’s safe to say that both Addie and Louis have endured their fair share of family tragedy and heartache over the years. Despite the joy of their new relationship, their emotional burdens and difficult relationships with their children are an unavoidable reality. And these issues really make their way to the surface when Addie is forced to take care of her grandson Jamie for an extended period of time. While both Louis and Addie embrace their newfound duties as Jamie’s role models, it’s clear that things have fundamentally changed. What was once a casual fling has become a full-fledged relationship. Only by facing their pasts can the two move forward and figure out how they fit into each other’s lives.
What makes Our Souls at Night so great is that it never trivializes this struggle. Their relationship is given the weight it deserves, as are their relationships with their children, Jamie and their friends in the community. A lesser movie might employ “kid gloves” to tell a sappy story about elder love; but Our Souls at Night respects its characters enough to give them the time and space to really develop. This is due in part to the brilliant script, adapted from Kent Haruf’s novel of the same name, but also the tremendous talent and chemistry between the two leads.
Jane Fonda & Robert Redford: An Iconic Duo
Jane Fonda and Robert Redford have appeared in a total of five films together, most notably in the 1967 smash hit Barefoot in the Park (pictured above). Their shared filmography also includes The Chase (1966), The Electric Horseman (1979) and the 1960 romcom Tall Story, where Redford had an uncredited role. With such extensive experience as acting partners and friends, it’s little wonder that Fonda and Redford are able to deliver such lived-in performances in Our Souls at Night. Their dynamic chemistry propels the narrative forward and prevents the film from ever delving into the realm of cliché.
In anticipation of the film’s 2017 premiere at the Venice Film Festival, the two legendary actors discussed their relationship, as well as the movie’s themes of aging, sex and romance at an advanced age. You can check out a clip from that press conference below.
Embracing Love Later in Life
Getting back into the dating scene can be difficult, especially if it’s been decades since the last time you were single. Despite strong interest, many seniors remain hesitant to try dating again; this is due in part to the persistent stigmas and misconceptions that distort the concept of elder romance. Many seniors fear that they have become unattractive or undesirable and are now incapable of participating in a romantic relationship. Fortunately, as these stigmas begin to fade, many are finding that with the advent of online dating and a growing number of active senior living communities, there are more dating opportunities for seniors today than ever before.
eHarmony, one of the leading online dating sites, offers the following tips for seniors looking to put themselves out there and re-enter the dating scene:
- Don’t Act Your Age: The first rule of dating is to have fun! Instead of getting caught up in what the responsible choice would be, try stepping outside of your comfort zone.
- Be Here, Now: We spend a lot of time worrying about the future or longing for the past. This is especially true as we age, but a concerted effort to be present and live in the moment can have a profound impact on your dating life.
- Leave your Kids at Home: Your adult children probably have opinions about your dating life. While it’s important to communicate and listen to their concerns and/or encouragement, at the end of the day it’s your life and you have to make choices for your own happiness.
Each Date is a Fresh Start: Don’t let yourself get bogged down by comparing a person that you just met to your long-time former partner. Enjoy the differences and embrace what is unique and enjoyable about this new person.
It’s Never Too Late
In another blog piece, titled Ageless Love: Seniors and Dating, Jeff Anderson highlights some of the challenges and advantages to senior dating in the modern era. The article covers important topics from examining the barriers that keep seniors from exploring new romantic opportunities, to the family’s role in a senior’s love life; but perhaps the most poignant line in the article is an excerpt Anderson chose from Betty Friedan’s The Fountain of Age. This quote really drives home the idea that it’s never too late to boldly embrace intimacy:
“Before it’s too late… we can choose to tear down the walls that we have built up against intimacy, choose to take the risks of it, choose to create the experiences, reunions, that will keep it alive, over the distances of time and space. But space itself, and time too, must be created anew; we have to use it differently, move maybe to a different space, for the bonds of intimacy to continue to grow and nourish us in age.”
Ultimately, Our Souls at Night is a story about shaking off the stigma of what we’re “supposed to do” and embracing human connection. The film strongly champions the idea that we can break free of our isolating routines and seek out love in whatever form we need. While the movie never loses sight of the practical realities of one’s responsibilities, it always allows room for love, joy and personal growth.
Cultivating fulfilling relationships can be challenging at any age, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. So, whether you’ve entered this particular phase of life or you’re just craving a film that’s not afraid to embrace the beauty and struggle of falling in love, Our Souls at Night is an absolute must watch! You can find it on Netflix, available now for streaming.