Though dizzyingly differing, the numerous perspectives that How to Live Forever gathers on the prolonging of life are enjoyable to watch, but the presentation of its information-overload is scattershot and prosaic. As evidenced in his last documentary, Tell Them Who You Are, about his father, the great cinematographer Haskell Wexler, Mark Wexler displays an honest-to-goodness desire to be a filmmaker in his own right, and he has the curiosity any good documentarian needs, but he doesn’t seem to have inherited his father’s visual sense, and his lack of organization makes his films seem to wander. With How to Live Forever, Wexler appears to want to cross over into a larger audience by picking a topic of interest to seemingly anyone, but the dubious universalism of his subject is more likely a regionalism and it’s likely that his audience will be people more like himself. That a wealthy, privileged Southern California family is where Wexler comes from has probably more to say about his free time to ponder, and interest in, how long he’ll live and what the world has to offer people who want to stay younger as they live longer than anything else.
The footage of the various characters in the business of life extension is impressive and colorful, including the vampiric Suzanne Somers extolling the miracles of hormone therapy, the vigorous (at the time of filming; he has since passed away) Jack LaLane, whose 94 years of age speaks enough about exercise and raw food, and the incredibly optimistic Cambridge professor of gerontology, Dr. Aubrey de Grey, whose believability on the science of life extension is no doubt strengthened by the astounding length of his beard. The people of Okinawa, however, whose health prospers due to a nutrient-rich and low-calorie diet and an old-school agrarian way of life that incorporates exercise into their daily activities, are an example of people that Wexler isn’t: They’re not overly concerned with escaping death and are content to lead a life where one works for what one needs, as shown in the footage of the still-active, elderly gardeners and fishermen. These Okinawans are not only fortunate enough to have good health and long life, but to not have to make handwringing documentaries about what they naturally have.
The problem with the movie is not just that it doesn’t realize that not everyone has the luxury to worry about if they’ll live to a ripe old age, but that there’s no consideration for the societal consequences of extending life beyond what we, and the planet, are accustomed to. If more people lived longer than before, how will the world make up for this new abundance of human needs? To name a few issues, how will there be enough jobs, food, and natural resources to accommodate for this change when there’s already a shortage now? It seems the movie’s answer is that there’s always a way for the privileged, and what it doesn’t say is that it’ll also be at the disadvantage of the underprivileged.