By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 23, 2016)
Tell me, muse, of the storyteller who has been thrust to the edge of the world, both an infant and an ancient, and through him reveal everyman. With time, those who listened to me became my readers. They no longer sit in a circle, but rather sit apart. And one doesn’t know anything about the other. I’m an old man with a broken voice, but the tale still rises from the depths, and the mouth, slightly opened, repeats it as clearly, as powerfully. A liturgy for which no one needs to be initiated to the meaning of words and sentences.
-from Wings of Desire, screenplay by Wim Wenders, Peter Handke & Richard Reitinger
They say that with age, comes wisdom. Just don’t ask a centenarian to impart any, because they are likely to smack you right in the kisser. Not that there is even a hint of any violence in Alex Fegan and Garry Walsh’s documentary, Older than Ireland, but there appears to be consensus among their interviewees (all aged from 100-113 years) that the question they find to be most irksome is: “What’s your secret to living so long?”
But once that hurdle is cleared, Fegan and Walsh’s subjects have much to impart in this wonderfully entertaining (and ultimately moving) pastiche of the human experience. The wordplay of the film title refers to its release on the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising (the birth of the Irish Republic), and the fact that all interviewees were born beforehand.
These aren’t luminaries, just everyday folks. But everyone has a story to tell; particularly someone who can say they’ve seen everything from World War I to Snapchat during their lifetime. Yet this isn’t necessarily a dry history lesson, either. A collection of personal histories, perhaps; but instantly and universally relatable. From memories of a first kiss (or sneaking off for “a snoggle in the ditch”, as one woman amusingly recalls) to remembering tragedy and loss. Or contemplating the conundrum of outliving everybody who ever meant anything to you; once considered, do you really hope you’ll live to 100?
So turn off your personal devices for 80 minutes, watch this wondrous film and plug into humankind’s forgotten backup system: the Oral Tradition. You may not discover The Secret to Eternal Life (which I’m convinced has everything to do with “genetics”, considering the one interviewee always seen puffing away and another who says she’s “never eaten a vegetable in [her] life”), but you just may learn something about yourself.