The Elderly Become Specimen in the Morally Ambiguous Walter

The Elderly Become Specimen in the Morally Ambiguous Walter

Is an unusually long life an achievement? That's the crucial question Hunter Weeks's dim-witted and embarrassing first-person documentary Walter could ask but never does. (Weeks does, however, devote several scenes to him and his girlfriend, Walter producer Sarah Hall, eating burritos in their apartment.) After meeting 114-year-old Walter Breuning, the world's oldest living man at the time of filming, Weeks becomes a liver-spot chaser, tracking down and interviewing several "supercentenarians"—those who have reached or surpassed the age of 110. Midway through their journey, he chuckles, "I'm hanging out with the oldest people in the world. It's so bizarre." He might as well be talking about a donkey with the world's longest teeth—he's not interested in these people's individuality, just their actuarial statistics. Nor does Weeks offer sociological insight; the documentary glosses over any physical or financial hardships the "supers" might accrue in their advanced age. Scenes from a trip to Cuba to visit a supposedly 124-year-old woman veer dangerously close to romanticizing poverty by attributing the longevity of the island's aging comrades to their "simple" way of life. Though the filmmakers undoubtedly had good intentions, their ultimate point—that a long life is the result of moral rectitude—is offensive and imbecilic. When the film captures 114-year-old Besse Cooper napping during her Guinness World Records induction ceremony as the oldest person in the world, even as a team of photographers assail her with the flash from their cameras, Weeks seems to finally understand his actions: reducing the elderly he so admires to specimen.

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