Six years ago photojournalist and filmmaker Mark Wexler set out to make a documentary about some of the world’s oldest people — ones who are actively involved in life, from everyday people to celebrities. Titled How to Live Forever: Results May Vary, the film has been making the international film festival round and is now available on DVD. Our writer talked to Wexler about the film’s journey, and what it taught him about his life and mortality. He is the son of the cinematographer Haskell Wexler, who is 90.
Why a film about living to 100?
When I turned 50 and my mom died and my AARP card arrived in the mail, like a lot of boomers, I started to re-evaluate my life.
I guess it was feeling my own mortality. I hadn’t had that many people close to me pass away. My mother’s death made me realize that there may be more years behind me than in front of me — but maybe not. That started me on the journey.
I thought, if we’re truly a generation that changed the world, why can’t we also be the generation that changes the perceptions and boundaries of aging? The dream of immortality has, I think, a special allure for many boomers. I felt maybe there really is a chance to add a whole other chapter to our lives.
What do you envision?
I think new technologies, stem cell work and other advances will lead to huge changes in the next 20 or 30 years in the area of life extension. I think people are going to be living to 150, 200 years old. Some individuals, specifically, Dr. Aubrey de Grey, who is in my film, believe there’s a chance we can live to be 1,000 or more. That sounds far-fetched right now, but change is exponential. And though the timeline may be a bit off — maybe 40 years from now instead of 20 — but I do think the technologies that will enable us to do this are right around the corner.
Did your personal perspective on aging also change?
When I started the film, I thought I would talk to scientists and doctors and find out if I only ate 20 more blueberries a day or took certain supplements, I’d live five, 10, 20 years longer. What I came to realize was that it’s really more about the quality of one’s life than it is about length, even given the dream of immortality. Friends asked me if I’m having such a great a time now that I want to live a lot longer, and that’s a good question. I realized that for me, living well as opposed to living long may be the way to go. I hope my film inspires people to live their lives to the fullest in the moment. That’s really all we have. The past is history and the future is unknown and the moment is here.
Did you make any lifestyle changes as a result of this awareness?
I’ve always been a healthy eater and I’ve tried to live as healthfully as possible. But I noticed I tend to worry a lot, and I’ve come to believe that how we think about things affects our health as much as the air we breathe and the food we eat. Our belief systems about aging are really key to how we will grow old. If you see aging as something debilitating and not fun, then that’s most likely what aging will be for you; it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. So, looking at how my mind works and all that worry, I’m taking steps to get rid of the negative chatter. One way is meditation, where I practice seeing and hearing the chatter, and letting it flow over me rather than latching onto it.
The real inspiration for this was when I spent time with all those centenarians and I saw that they possess an inner serenity and humor that I love being in the presence of. They don’t care what people think. They’re done worrying. They all had what the Japanese call “ikigai” — a reason to get up in the morning. It doesn’t have to be a job; it could be a hobby, just something you love that you want to get up to do. They all had a passion for life, and I basked in their glow. I think that’s the key.