Aging in the Suburbs – Is This Realistic or Risky?
The Shift

Five Flights Up


Morgan Freeman plays Alex Carver, an artist, and Diane Keaton portrays Alex’s wife, Ruth, a retired teacher. They met when he painted her as a model while she was a student and he had just returned from Vietnam. They have lived in a fifth-floor walk-up apartment that they love in Brooklyn for forty years.As he’s getting older, Alex is having some difficulty navigating the stairs due to a degenerating hip. As real estate prices have escalated, they consider moving to a building with an elevator.

While Alex and Ruth do not consider themselves rich, as Brooklyn has become hip, their apartment is now estimated to be worth $1 million. He muses “Who would have thought that the sum total of my life’s work would be worth less than this place.”

Alex is a highly principled and independent person. He is very devoted to his art and his wife. His life is centered on those two relationships. It turns out that he is also passionate about their apartment and their dog, Dorothy. He rejects the idea proposed by friends they should move to Florida (‘like everyone else their age’) asking Ruth “What are we chasing? Haven’t we built a good life?”

He is deeply engaged with his art and his marriage and looks to be satisfied – overall – with his life

Lessons for Retirement Planning

Everyone’s Situation is Unique
There’s a push and pull throughout the film between what others think Ruth and Alex should do, based on cultural norms in retirement, and what they ultimately decide to do. They encounter many ‘ageist’ assumptions and expectations. In the end, they conclude to do what they think is best for them, as they have throughout their lives. The film portrays Alex alternating between amusement with the circus around him and soul-searching about what he and Ruth should do. In planning your transition to retirement ignore the noise and focus on what truly is most important to you.

Your Best Life in Retirement May Be Right in Front of You
When picturing life in retirement, there’s a tendency to think about faraway places and favorable climates. But that’s not nirvana for all. For some people, it’s a matter of thinking through what they would lose by moving. In fact, despite Alex’s friends urging him to move to Florida like everyone else his age, the facts are that most retirees do not move, but elect to stay in their homes.

But Keep in Mind What You May Need in the Future
Alex and Ruth go back and forth in their deliberations on what to and the film does a great job in depicting the emotional roller coasters that come with decisions like this. In my view, there’s the romantic and sentimental aspects that are important factors, but there are practical concerns.(After having hip surgery, I could not walk up to the second floor for two months and if I were Alex, I’d think carefully about how long I’d want to – or could – trek up five flights…).

Our Takes

This is a movie that’s worth seeing because of the cast. Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton are excellent together. Cynthia Nixon, of Sex and the City fame, plays their relative/real estate agent, and provides some fun moments. One reviewer commented that the trailer was worth viewing just to hear Morgan Freeman talk about the hipsters in Brooklyn with derision.1 The film does a good job of illustrating some of the ageist attitudes that retirees face and some of the real dilemmas people grapple with in making one of the most important decisions in retirement living – where should we live?

1  Carlson, Jen. (2015, March 20) Morgan Freeman Flees “Hipster Brooklyn” In New Movie. The Gothamist.

Comments are closed.