There are two Harrison Fords in Indiana Jones: The Dial of Destiny: a digitally de-aged adventurer battling Nazis over plundered artifacts in 1944, and a retiring college professor reluctantly called back into the high-speed chase life in 1969. The one who gets the movie’s shirtless scene? That would be 1969 Indy, played by the contemporary Ford, now 80, who is shown waking up in boxers and walking across Indy’s New York apartment.
The scene is not played for cheap, age-joke laughs, nor does it look like Ford spent months injecting growth hormones or recovering from invasive aesthetic treatments to prepare. No, this Indy looks like his handsome self, just older, like life has kicked him around a bit, the way it does if any of us are lucky enough to make it to 70 and beyond. And this image of a movie star we’ve watched since his beautiful youth being allowed to age is a rare and welcome one. Complimented on his appearance in the film at the movie’s press conference, Ford quipped, “I’ve been blessed with this body. Thanks for noticing.”
One of the last publicly acceptable forms of bias in Hollywood is ageism, where people who wouldn’t think of openly demeaning someone’s gender, race or sexuality feel comfortable dropping words like “geezer,” insulting an actor’s changing face or physique or implying that it’s time for a writer or executive in the business to hang it up.
France has always had a more, well, mature view of aging than the U.S., and an ideal place to find an alternate worldview when it comes to getting older is at the Cannes Film Festival, where this year, stars like Ford, Helen Mirren, Michael Douglas, and Catherine Deneuve have blown in like a warm breeze off the Riviera to show audiences an image of life after 70 that reflects beauty, pleasure, and joy.
“I’m even older than the festival,” mused Douglas, 78, while receiving an honorary Palme d’Or at the opening ceremony, after the audience watched a reel showcasing his roles in movies like Wall Street, Basic Instinct and Behind the Candelabra. (At 76, the festival itself is just hitting its prime.)
Mirren, 77, on hand as a L’Oréal ambassador, walked the red carpet opening night with newly dyed blue-and-purple hair, coordinated to her custom Del Core taffeta blue gown, and fluttering a bamboo fan that read “#WorthIt,” a nod to the L’Oréal Paris slogan. Some following the festival online mistakenly interpreted Mirren’s fan as a statement about Johnny Depp, whose film, Jeanne du Barry, was opening Cannes, but the actress had a more practical explanation: “I picked up a fan because I was hot,” she said. If Mirren was making a political statement, it was in the way she reclaimed blue hair, once an insulting way to describe an older woman. On young people, blue hair has been a cool, counterculture signifier for years, worn by young celebrities like Billie Eilish and Ciara. On Mirren, it’s a punk rock punch in the mouth to anyone who expects older women to be invisible.
Deneuve, whose image from 1968 in Alain Cavalier’s La Chamade (Heartbeat) graces the official Cannes poster this year and looms with an aloof glamor over the Palais, opened the festival by reciting a poem, “Hope,” by Ukrainian poet Lesya Ukrainka, an acknowledgment of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine happening at the other end of Europe. At 79, Deneuve has made nine movies in the last five years.
The reason that matters, and isn’t just a cute “let’s pat Grandma on the head” sentiment, is that it is so rare. According to a USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study released in February, of the 100 top-grossing films released in 2022, only 10 featured a woman 45 years of age or older at the time of theatrical release as leads or co-leads; 35 of those movies depicted a man in the same age bracket. (As in the rest of the civilization, Hollywood is crueler to women.) The Annenberg study doesn’t break that 45-plus demographic down further, to see how often 70-plus actors are driving the action. Disregarding those actors, however, as well as the writers, directors, producers, and craftspeople with that kind of life experience, is a loss for the film industry and for the broader culture.
Martin Scorsese, 80, who is attending the festival to premiere his new film, Killers of the Flower Moon, recently told Deadline that he’s feeling the most creatively engaged, just as he’s also feeling the ticking clock of his own mortality. “I want to tell stories, and there’s no more time,” Scorsese said. At Cannes, at least, we can take a moment.