Old Age and End of Life in Stories

Old Age and End of LifeIn this final article on age-related categories drawn from Linda Seger’s book, Advanced Screenwriting, I examine themes related to old age and end of life.

Old Age

As we age even further we feel a pressing need to reconcile past deeds with our conscience. We seek to resolve past hurts, overcome alienation, heal relationships, deal with regret. On Golden Pond, tells the story of three generations of characters who meet in order to reconcile with one another. In Magnolia, the dying father recognises that in order to affirm his own integrity he has to reconcile with his son.

In my own novel, The Land Below, the aging Troubadour, wracked by guilt for having kept a startling secret from the young protagonist, Paulie, chooses a climactic moment to reveal the truth about his lineage.

End of Life

But as the prospect of death creeps even closer, another issue gains prominence. Linda Seger relates her observations in a nursing home for the aged where she noticed two basic types of reactions from people close to death – anger and mellow acceptance.

There were those who felt that they had somehow been cheated out of their just deserts, or that life had somehow passed them by. These were issues that they had not resolved earlier in life and that were now coming home to roost.

Then there were people who seemed to accept the end of their lives with a mellow acquiescence and a deep gratitude for having participated in life’s adventure at all.

Although some stories, such as Paul Harding’s Pulitzer winning novel, Tinkers, deal with the subject of death and reconciliation in a breathtakingly insightful way, there is generally a dearth of stories featuring this last stage of one’s life – certainly in film. This could be a rich source to explore in the future, especially for a population that increasingly is achieving longer lifespans.

The point to stress, as Erik Erikson indicates, is that if we fail to deal with life’s themes at the time they occur they will continue to fester, under the surface, until we do.

In Dead Poet’s Society, Todd is forced to resolve issues of self-esteem, identity, integrity, and belonging because he never resolved these issues as a teenager. In Rain Man, Charlie, who carries with him the pain of a childhood in which he felt he didn’t belong, has to reconcile issues of achievement and success juxtaposed against the need for intimacy and integrity before he can resolve his inner conflict.

A character who is dying, then, may be forced to face unresolved issues at the time he is least equipped to do so.


Confronting unresolved themes during old age is the last great task we have to perform as people, and through fictional characters in our stories.

2 thoughts on “Old Age and End of Life in Stories

  1. Gerhard Pistorius

    How effective the idea of old age in film. In Harry Potter and the half blood prince , when looking for a object that will lead to demise of the antagonist , Harry ( the main protagonist) along with his most trusted ally , Albus Dumbledore travel to a hidden chamber. To enter the chamber one has to willingly sacrifice his own blood. Harry Offer’s however Dumbledore is quick to cut his hand stating that Harry’s blood is much more precious than his own. I recognize Dumbledore personal sacrifice. Despite Harry’s insistence of drinking a deadly potion Dumledore tells Harry that if anyone is to dink the potion it should be himself. Harry questions Dumledore’s choice and Dumbledore tells Harry that because he is much older , he must be the one to drink it.

    This powerful scene of Dumbledore’s suffering is very metaphorical because it’s Harry who is causing his suffering because of his order to Harry not to stop making him drink the potion. Parents directly and indirectly suffer because of there children’s willingness / unwillingness to honer there sacrifices. That is why JK Rowling is the single most successful writer of the modern world. She is able to wright a children’s noval that is dealing with a very real theme in childhood.


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