Retirement Wisdom - At the Movies

You may have seen some of these movies, but we look at them a little differently – in them are some powerful messages on retirement.  We're not Siskel & Ebert, but we enjoy sharing our perspective.


Five Flights Up       movierating_4a



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.


The Shift                                                                           


If you only want to watch one movie to glean valuable lessons on retirement, watch this one. Especially if you are currently still embroiled in the ‘rat race’.

This film is adapted from the book of the same name by the late Wayne Dyer, who passed away in 2015. It is set in an interesting resort in California where Dyer goes to work on a new book. A film crew is coming to shoot an interview with Dyer. He notices the hyper-aggressive style of the Director, and chooses to share some of his wisdom and lessons learned about how to live your best life. The lessons are amplified by the stories of guests and staff as the film unfolds.

The main point of the film is that through mid-life the primary focus of many people is achievement. We strive to establish a career and achieve success and we’re surrounded by people and systems that encourage and reward those pursuits. However, at a certain point in life, which comes at different points for different people, there is a pivot. Success, as our society defines it, isn’t enough. There’s a shift to valuing significance over achievement. For some people, that means focusing less on ourselves and more on others. Less on achieving and more on contributing. Dyer had a great expression “Don’t die with your music still inside you” that captures it well.

At the same time the movie is not preachy about pursuing success. It just makes the case that it’s not the only thing – there’s much more to life. And that realization can come slowly – or not at all.

If you’re beginning to think about your life after your primary career, I’d highly recommend this film. It’s well-done and both entertaining and educational.