London Film Festival has been underway for the last 12 days and I’m ashamed to say I missed out on most of it. Not out of pure choice as the demand for some of the 248 films on offer was astronomical although talking to a few of my friends they said movies such as The Fury (Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf) and Whiplash (Miles Teller, JK Simmons) were well worth the entry fee. In the end I decided to give ‘The Immortalists’ a go as it’s a subject very close to my interests and having seen the TED talk given by Aubrey de Grey back in 2005 I was keen to see the progress he and the whole science field have made in this considerably short period of time.
The film focuses on the lives of two men who although on the surface are very different have a unified purpose and belief that aging is merely a disease. If you think of it that way any disease can be cured, the mitigating factors being money, time and research. For those of you who are not aware Aubrey de Grey is Cambridge researcher on aging who has come to bigger prominence in recent years after taking his SENS Research Foundation into the heart is Silicon Valley and bridging the gap between biologists and technologists.
Aubrey famously claims that the first human beings who will live to 1,000 years old have already been born. Although I take such a claim with a pinch of salt it’s important to consider how we view such a statement in 2014. It’s not longer looked at like a quote from an Isaac Asimov novel but a valid scientific theory with millions of $ in capital to support it (see Google’s Calico venture).
Now the film itself is not scientific in nature but does touch upon some fundamental aspects of human ageing, cell health and telomeres (which is the end of each string of chromosomes that gets smaller after each division but correct me if I’m wrong here). This film serves as a great little induction about ageing for the unaware and focuses on the people behind the science who are charming and likeable in their own way. Aubrey as the latest figurehead of the movement is seen engaging in public debates and social gathering to spread the word of his cause whilst William Andrews spends the majority of the film in his lab, running marathons and looking after his ailing father who’s struck with a growing case of Alzheimer’s.
The human aspect of the Immortalists film is what really resonated with me and there are continuous undertones of human mortality and helplessness to show just how out of touch we are with our own bodies. Yet this is something that should invoke a sense of wonder and joyful curiosity in all of us, but what if? If you look at the life expectancy over the last 150 or so years you can see the upward correlation although people still make the mistake of thinking that because life expectancy in the 50’s was 65 it was almost impossible to live to 100. This is incorrect because infant mortality has always been at a high level and only recently has this number began to dwindle.
With advances in science we have become exceedingly great at slowing down or eradicating diseases altogether, the next step is to slow down ageing and with the inevitable developments in nanotechnology I believe the answer is no more than a few decades away.
A bit like the Immortalists itself this review does not have a conclusion but rather it asks the question and leaves it up to you to answer. What will come of an immortal population? The technological, social and economic problems and benefits are too vast to comprehend or even speculate on because frankly nobody knows, at best we can have educated guesses. At the end there was a chance to interview the directors of the film David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg who were kind enough to answer some of the audiences questions. The interesting part came when they asked people to hold up their hands if they believed ageing will be cured or was this a crazy science-fiction pipe dream? The room was divided almost 50/50 which for me was surprising as I did not think this was such a widely accepted idea and talking to the directors after the film it was even more surprising that in places like Canada and Sweden they received an almost unanimous ‘yes’ to the same question.
I would recommend The Immortalists to anyone with the slightest interest in the subject, although the film revolves around the individuals and their personal stories the overarching idea is something everyone should be aware of from a scientific and self interest point of view.
What are your thoughts on my writeup? If you’ve seen The Immortalists yourself please leave a comment with your thoughts below or tweet me @StyleDivision