As navel-gazing documentarians go, Morgan Spurlock has nothing on Mark Wexler. His first film, Me And My Matchmaker, focused on a yenta trying to find him the perfect match. In Tell Them Who You Are, he explored and exploited his relationship with his father, Haskell, the famous Hollywood cinematographer. Now that Wexler has rounded 50, How To Live Forever treats us to a feature-length look at the aging process: what it means, how it might be slowed down, and whether that’s a good thing.
Like Willard Scott without the jam, Wexler tracks down centenarians, including the world’s oldest living human (who, not surprisingly, has since died) as well as scientists, a medium, and a specialist who calls himself a “biggerontologist.” Through studying the people of Okinawa, Japan, where life expectancy greatly exceeds America’s, Wexler gleans the idea that cutting way back on calories and eating fresh fish and vegetables might be the way to go. (Alert viewers will note the lack of a “Breaking News” crawl.) But that doesn’t account for Buster Martin, a 101-year-old Brit who smokes, drinks (anything but water), eats red meat, and runs marathons—with periodic cigarette breaks, of course.
As anyone who reads the paper can tell you, the science of what does and doesn’t prolong life is an open book, rewritten almost daily, with experts staking claims on opposite ends of the behavioral spectrum: Either do this and avoid that, or the converse, or neither. Wexler’s superficial survey adds nothing to that flood of data, and only a little to a philosophical understanding of mortality. The Guinness Book Of World Records employee in charge of awarding the world’s-oldest crown shares what he calls “the 90 percent solution”—give 90 percent, 90 percent of the time—for keeping busy without burning out. Writer Pico Iyer, whom Wexler identifies as a good friend, likens the anti-aging quest to a child’s attempts to shirk bedtime, which has the fringe benefit of making the hour-plus before his observation seem like an utter waste of time. Wexler breaks the cardinal rule of first-person documentaries: Don’t make yourself the subject unless you’re worth paying attention to.