The Age of Adaline is a fantastical love story about a woman who stops aging at 29. In a world as dedicated to beauty and youth as ours, that may sound like a good thing, until you actually watch someone live it. Everyone around you aging, you always the same—so lonely and empty. Every photo of you the same, because you never change. And always having to reinvent yourself every decade or so lest people begin to wonder why they are aging, and you aren’t. Put into such perspective, it makes growing old a beautiful, graceful thing.
It also shows us something about love. Love isn’t just a feeling. It’s about being vulnerable, being exposed… being known. Something Adaline couldn’t do because she was always hiding something, always protecting herself. Most of us hide from others because we are afraid we aren’t good enough. We are afraid our imperfections, weight, age, grey hair…etc. will disqualify us in some way. Ironically, Adaline was more afraid of being disqualified because of her perfection. It was her timeless, ageless beauty that made her hide.
The thing is, no one would have guessed that she was lonely—because she was admired. She was so lovely and charming that guys often fell in love with her, but what good was it for them to love her if they didn’t know her? She was lonely because she was surrounded by admirers, and admiration is a sorry substitute for love. But because she was hiding her secret, no one could do more than admire her because no one could really know her.
This movie is so much about perspective. Adaline said that there was no point in falling in love because there was “no future”. Her daughter pointed out that all she has is future. It was a matter of perspective, just as age is a matter of perspective. Most people dread aging, but because of their perspective, Adaline and her daughter celebrated it. Aging naturally was a gift! In fact, in the end, when Adaline found a grey hair, a sign of aging she had never known, she rejoiced. Aging was not a burden, but a relief. Having to stay eternally young and beautiful, that was a burden. It is a burden—and many of us feel it, the need to maintain a sense of perfection in our appearance (and our behavior, etc.).
Adaline had to change her perspective on what mattered in life. For decades her main priority had been about staying safe. She was protecting herself (and her daughter) by keeping this miracle of never aging a secret. But, as she aged, she began to wonder if she was hurting herself by protecting herself. She was horribly lonely. She had to see her new romantic interest as not a threat, but a safe place to unburden her soul. She had to risk her safety for the possible reward of finding love and happiness. It was a matter of a shift in priority, a change in perspective.
For the viewer, in a world caught up with finding admirers, gaining “likes”, adding fans and “friends” to your various online profiles where you can preserve a timeless photo of yourself, showing only your best sides… we act as if we want what she had. We are all desperate to be admired, or at least we think we are. We aren’t really. What we really want is the same as what Adaline really wanted, to love and be loved… and that’s a very different thing from simply being admired.
You know, I heard it once said that God has a lot of admirers, but not a lot of friends. It’s an interesting thought. The world is full of people who admire His handiwork, His judgement, His character, His power… A lot of people like to be to be associated with Him and even think that they know Him…but they don’t. Not really. They don’t know His Spirit, His Secrets, His thoughts, His feelings…they know an idea of Him—one they respect and admire, but they don’t love Him. And it’s not like God is Adaline, hiding something and never letting anyone get close… He wants for us to know Him. But He also wants to know that we really love Him, so He keeps some things buried a little deeper so that we have to work to know them. It’s not to keep them from us, but that we would pursue really knowing Him—to separate the admirers and the lovers.
It’s a pretty story, beautifully told. The temptation is to watch it and wish we were as lovely and elegant as she. To yearn for this epic life she had… But don’t let us miss the real lesson here. Don’t let us come away envying her beauty, but learning from her pain. It is better to be known and loved for all our imperfections, than to be perfect but distant, admired but lonely. Perfection is a burden. Timeless beauty, perpetual youth…those aren’t burdens we are meant to carry. Let us love well and age gracefully… and let us be sure we are more than an admirer of God, but a friend, as well.
Questions for Discussion:
- Do you feel pressure to be young and beautiful?
- Would you say you have more admirers or friends?
- Do you often want admirers, thinking they will make you feel like you are loved?
- Would you rather be loved or admired? Despite what you really want, which do you actually pursue in your life, and why?
- Did Adaline make you think differently about being young and beautiful? Did it seem like less of a blessing after watching her story?
- How did you feel about grey hair and wrinkles at the end, when she was looking at herself in the mirror, seeing her first sign of age?
- Do you let people really get to know you, or do you, like Adaline, withhold?
- Would you say you are an admirer of God, or a friend of God?