Only at the age of twenty-five, I’ve already found bits of me growing old. Those few gray hairs have already multiplied to a streak and after a good downhill hike, I feel it all through my hip the next day. There used to be some unspoken idea of invincibility floating through my mind, now I see that if we’re lucky enough to see our prime there will be a decline. Of body and possibly the mind. But as we inevitably age, we should not let these truths become a burden. It’s important to take each year as a celebration and find happy things to come back to that will help keep us young in spirit.
In the film On Golden Pond, an old couple returns to their summer lake cottage they have had since their days as newly weds. Right away, Ethel (Katharine Hepburn) is excited to return, “The loons, they’re welcoming us back.” “I don’t hear a thing,” says her husband, Norman (Henry Fonda). At first we get the idea that Norman is an old foggy, just a grouchy old man who’s mind is going along with his body. He only lets his guard down around Ethel, the scenes where he can admit to his fear when forgetting things is heartbreaking and sweet. I could not bear the thought of Norman and Ethel split apart.
Their only child, Chelsea (Jane Fonda), will be visiting with her fiancé and his son for Norman’s 80th birthday. Norman and Ethel haven’t seen Chelsea for years. They love her just as much, but it seems their relationship is strained, especially between father and daughter. Chelsea and Bill (Dabney Coleman) can only stay for one day, since they’re going to Europe and ask if young Billy (Doug McKeon) can stay there for a few weeks. It seems kinda low at first to just pop in for a quick visit and ask for some babysitting services, but having a thirteen year old boy around does Norman a lot of good. Though there’s some immediate friction, Norman and Billy become thick as thieves and have some adventures together between weeks of boating, swimming and fishing for old Walter. But when Chelsea returns, she’s jealous of the quick bond Billy has made that she has always wanted with her father.
There’s something amazing about watching two of the greatest veteran actors together in their golden years. Hepburn and Fonda both won lead acting Oscars for their perfect portray a pair of old loons still busting with life. Sadly, On Golden Pond was Fonda’s final film. Between his hilariously delivered smart-ass-old-man lines, “Oh, sure. Black bears, grizzlies. One of ’em came along here and ate an old lesbian just last month.”, and his touching moments of vulnerability, this really is one of his greatest roles. It’s wonderful to see him become suddenly invigorated by the presence of a young boy. And Hepburn’s portrayal of an old woman who doesn’t live by her age is amazing. From old song and dance routines she does alone, practicing her loon calls and even diving into perilously cold waters, Hepburn’s Ethel is an amazing woman. Best of all, Norman and Ethel together are the perfect couple who have only bonded closer after so many years.
On Golden Pond is such a touching story filled with reasons to celebrate life, love and happiness. There are so many films out there about youth and young love, but films about happy people in their seventies or eighties are very few and far between. Our culture tends to dismiss people after too many wrinkles or candles on the cake. If we can make it to those high numbers, what an accomplishment, what a life. And if after fifty years together you can still call your spouse a friend, you’ve got more to celebrate than most people. I’m not big on tears, or admitting to them, but this film made me cry and thankfully my husband was there. I only hope to say the same thing in fifty years.
“Life marches by, Chels. I suggest you get on with it.”