“As far as my eyes can see
There are shadows approaching me”
These lines from The Alan Parsons Project’s song “Old and Wise” resonates with anyone over the age of sixty. The winter of our lives comes for us all. It is inevitable. We all get old. We can live our lives in preparation for our final years, but no one truly knows how we will handle our “final stretch.” But don’t we all deserve to be happy? To ride out those final years with some sort of peace.
Lance Oppenheim’s “Some Kind of Heaven” follows the daily lives of a few residents living in Florida’s The Villages, the country’s largest gated retirement community.
These seniors are still struggling to find happiness as they make their way through life on the margins, each one trying to make their own heaven out of their surroundings and finding that life still isn’t easy at that advanced age.
Some are trying to find their place while others are just coasting on, until the end.
Dennis is a man who has lived a life of parties and fun but is now homeless and living in his van. We immediately recognize him as a lost soul and a wasted life and are put off as we discover, through his own words, that he is only looking for a woman to take care of him.
Barbara is a widow who wanted to find a form of peace and community living when she moved to The Villages, yet discovers that she doesn’t quite fit in.
The film’s strangest and most inherently sad moments come in the examination of married couple Reggie and Anne. Their marriage is in trouble as Reggie is facing charges of cocaine possession.
Reggie is a strange cat. He certainly has emotional issues and the drugs don’t help. Watching the couple cling to memories and try to save their marriage gives the film its potency.
Anne is a real person but a character such as herself would be at home in a film from Ingmar Bergman. There are layers to this woman, but nothing is obvious on the outside. She expresses her disdain for her husband’s wild ways but is guarded and never speaks fully of her emotional state. Yet we learn that she has thrown up her hands and is, to an extent, “riding it out.” She loves her husband and is, perhaps, clinging on to who he was and hoping that Reggie will show up again.
Oppenheim isn’t concerned with flashiness. Cinematographer David Bolen gets some beautiful wide shots of the community. His camerawork immerses the audience in the vastness of the community. We are told that The Villages is indeed the largest of its type in the country but Oppenheim doesn’t overload his film with a verbal history of the area. It is a well-shot architectural lesson and Bolen’s camera is our teacher, as he shows its grandeur from all sides.
These people are interesting to get to know but if the film has one problem it just might be the director’s lack of interest in getting to know them beyond their issues.
It would have been more rounded a portrayal if we could have experienced better insight into their everyday lives, again, beyond their issues. It could have been fun to learn what films they like, what their lives were like prior to living there, their political leanings, or just their thoughts on the world in general.
All we see is their down sides during the drama captured in the film. This isn’t a negative, but a broader personal view of these people would’ve made this film more genuine.
When we think of Florida-based retirement communities our minds go to golf games, BBQ, and leather-skinned seniors having the time of their lives.
Lance Oppenheim shows us that these communities are not safe from life itself. Real-world problems penetrate the gates of this warm Florida paradise and whatever personal baggage these people had when they arrived stayed with them.
“Some Kind of Heaven” may appear incomplete, now and again, but nevertheless furnishes an admirable and interesting look at a group of people who may or may not have had a firm grasp on life as younger people but who are now faced with the realities of how they will live out their final days.
With a hint of the aura of the documentaries crafted by Errol Morris, Lance Oppenheim uses honesty and humanity to look underneath this sun-baked utopia. It truly is time well-spent.