I came home still a little teary and deeply moved after seeing Peter O’Toole’s new film Venus,
a tour de force about a love affair, albeit chaste, between Maurice, an
aging (80 something) lothario, and Jessie, an angry and unsophisticated
young woman (20 something). I was eager to read the reviews and shocked
to find that most viewers had put it down (6 on a scale of 10) largely
as a reflection of their discomfort with the suggestions of sexual
intimacy across such a wide generational divide.

From my
perspective, it was a masterpiece depicting our cultural expectations
for aging and the possibility of living life full of love, passion and
even desire to the last day. The movie begins and ends by the sea, a
perfect metaphor for ending our journey where we began. Maurice and his
two pals typify some of the primary approaches we might take to life as
we age:

  • Donald is a corpulent observer accepting life with a kind of bemused detachment
  • Ian, Maurice’s best pal, is a bit dottery, self-absorbed and preoccupied with his blood pressure
  • Maurice,
    a not-quite-yet-retired aging actor, is committed to continue
    participating in any way he can, living his life to the fullest and not
    letting his age define what is possible.

Maurice’s approach
was succinctly depicted at one point when he slaps himself three times
and declares that it is time to “Get up old man!”

In her part
as Ian’s young niece, Jodie Whittaker passed through all the phases
most women journey through when they encounter seduction and
unconditional love at any age: reluctance, resistance, rationalization,
negotiation, eventual surrender and the emancipation that comes from
realizing her power and experiencing the absolute self-respect,
self-esteem and perfection of being loved just for herself. In this
sense, the story was a rite of passage from youth to maturity. It
encompassed aspects of My Fair Lady, The Sun Also Rises and Harold and

I give Venus a ‘10’ because it speaks to each and
everyone of us. It shows the vastness of possibility that awaits us as
we grow older and proclaims love as our central—perhaps our only—reason
for living. Love of life, love of self, receiving love and giving love
unconditionally to at least one other human being. In these, we find
pleasure and joy in whatever form it comes. In a particularly powerful
moment in the film, O’Toole quotes Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “To be or not
to be, that is the question.” For me, the film transformed this into,
“To be love or not to be love, THAT is the question.”

I recommend Venus to anyone who dreams of living and dying on their own terms.