To what lengths would you go to recapture youth, or, at least, the appearance of youth? That is the question posed by Mitch McCabe’s film “Make Me Young: Youth Knows No Pain,” which was produced in collaboration with HBO and broadcast last fall. It’s now out on DVD from Cinema Libre Studios, and provides an insider’s view of the fascinating and perverse world of plastic surgery.
McCabe’s father was a prominent plastic surgeon who entered the profession after serving as a trauma surgeon in Vietnam. Though he developed a reputation as an expert in reconstructive surgery he also performed many cosmetic surgeries, some of which McCabe herself got to sit in on when she was as young as ten years-old. Her love for her late father, who died tragically in a car accident, and her lifelong fascination with his odd profession are what propel the film.
McCabe begins by charting her own history of age obsession—she once bought four hundred-dollar face cream—and then branching out into the lives of friends, acquaintances, and a couple curiosities: the daughter of another plastic surgeon who poses for Playboy, and the man who decided to turn himself into a dead ringer for Jack Nicholson. Where McCabe herself falls along this spectrum isn’t exactly clear and this makes the film particularly compelling.
As we’re introduced to people more and more obsessed with their appearances and willing to go to absurd lengths to satisfy their vanity, the film becomes an interesting microcosm of American culture. Several of McCabe’s subjects repeatedly emphasize that “this is America,” and therefore people should be entitled to make and remake themselves however they want, as often as they want. It’s a weird interpretation of rugged individualism, but it’s also easy to see how the convergence of America’s pathological fear of aging and the sixty-billion-dollar-a-year plastic surgery industry plays into it.
McCabe, who studied at Harvard and NYU and won a Student Academy Award in 1995, manages to balance the weirdness and humor of her subject perfectly: you’ll come away horrified but bemused at the same time. Her slightly unconventional style, which incorporates very formal shoots as well as video diaries and animation, works well—the final product is serious and professional without being condescending or critical. You’ll certainly never look at any face on TV quite the same way again.
Make Me Young is available on DVD from Cinema Libre Studios.