‘TIS THE BEAUTY OF OUR SUNSET YEARS: on ON GOLDEN POND (1981)

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I finally experienced the purity of watching ON GOLDEN POND(1981) yesterday ( I thank my lucky stars that it was available in good print on YouTube)

Suffice to say, it shares the same level of compassion, dynamics of interpersonal relationships and intimacy of its setting by the lake, in a country estate, apart from its focus on wise and loveable members of the sunset club, amounting to the later years of one’s life, with one of my all time favourites THE WHALES OF AUGUST ( I have written about this darling of a cinematic creation on this very blog around late last year)

The other similarities being that like the Lindsay Anderson directed feature released in 1987, ON GOLDEN POND too is based on a play and was among the final screen appearances for such behemoths as KATHARINE HEPBURN and HENRY FONDA just like THE WHALES OF AUGUST had luminaries like BETTE DAVIS, LILLIAN GISH, ANN SOTHERN and VINCENT PRICE in their final major appearances committed to the cinematic canon.

On another positive note, it captures the cover of nature beautifully, with the lapping lake water, swimming loon birds, flying winged members of this idyllic location and panoramic shots of the lake from various angles justifying the vastness of the lead couple’s lived experiences and its distillation in this current moment that the film addresses, in which the Thayers, namely NORMAN ( HENRY FONDA) and ETHEL ( KATHARINE HEPBURN), return to their summer home, away from the city, to ring in the man’s 80th birthday, with his daughter Chelsea ( Henry’s real life daughter, the legendary Jane Fonda) joining in. This personal axis makes it more special.

In THE WHALES OF AUGUST too, sisters Sara and Libby follow a life long tradition of returning to their summer home of Maine, even in their advanced years, to catch the annual event of whales appearing on the sea around August ( it’s wonderful how the month and the expression ‘one’s august years’ – or older years – is beautifully integrated in the title)

ON GOLDEN POND, spotting loons on the lake and conducting fishing trips is a constant lifeline so the natural world is very much part and parcel of their inner unravelings, seamlessly intertwined with their pursuit of peace after fulfilling responsibilities of work, family and society so far, in their respective journeys.

This fidelity to a shared custom seems to hold them in a mortal coil of permanence, suggesting that no matter what their fears and apprehensions, there is a safe space where they can be together among loved ones, especially pertinent to the lifetime bonding between two soulmates. One cantankerous, tart tongued, overseeing shades of an abiding existential crisis( as in the parts essayed by BETTE DAVIS and HENRY FONDA) ; the other accommodating a freedom of living each day as it comes, providing soccour to the other half( as represented by LILLIAN GISH and KATHERINE HEPBURN) . This yin and yang dynamic is crucial to sustaining bonds and is at the center of these two soul stirring screenplays.

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I will share more about the film in an upcoming post. For now, I will conclude that watching it has been a joy, so humbling and full of simplicity it is. I had earlier tried watching it on YouTube but the print wasn’t very clear and the screen dimension was so large, only extreme close ups of the faces could be seen. That would have been killjoy. This time, though, it was perfectly suited for a wholesome viewing. It’s a film I had very much heard and read about, specifically from writer Nikhat Kazmi’s book on the greatest films of all time. Last afternoon turned out to be D day for this cinephile and a sense of satisfaction dawned with clarity.

One post on ON GOLDEN POND isn’t enough. It’s a film of profound, sublime imagery and lucid storytelling ethics, with predictable truths rendered with a view for others and the immediate present . So all other thoughts will make way in the next post. Keep reading and sharing your opinions.

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