Occasionally a film emerges from the melee of otherwise nondescript cinema releases, which stays in the mind long after it is first seen. That it is often an independently produced work which comes from outside of the Hollywood factory may not seem surprising: arresting, thought provoking cinema which tackles taboo subjects, is often (though not always) too hot for larger, mainstream studios to handle. Mr Morgan’s Last Love, with its core theme of mortality and how we deal with the inevitable march of time, is one such film.
Following the death of his wife Joan (Jane Alexander) Matthew Morgan (Michael Caine), a retired American philosophy teacher, leads a lonely existence in his beautiful, modernist, Paris apartment. One day as the bus on which he is travelling breaks suddenly, Matthew quite literally falls for a young dance teacher called Pauline (a beautifully measured performance by Clémence Poésy) after she kindly helps him to his feet. During the proceeding weeks and months as Matthew and Pauline’s unorthodox friendship blossoms, they discover things about each-other which give them both a fresh outlook on life and renewed optimism for the future.
Caine’s performance in Mr Morgan’s Last Love displays perfectly why he is widely considered one of the most accomplished actors of his, or any other, generation. Here is a man comfortable in his own skin, not afraid to show his age magnified a hundred times on the silver screen, with each and every smile and frown line laid open to public scrutiny. His portrayal of the despondent widower whose life fails to have any purpose once his beloved wife dies, but who finds new hope and energy in the form of his young friend Pauline, could only come from someone who has experienced life and understands the fears which face us all as we grow older. The viewer feels for Caine’s Matthew as he faces each day of the rest of his life without the one person who understood everything, both good and bad, which combined to make him the man he is.
That the new love which he finds – and which helps him face his future with fresh acceptance – comes from outside of his remaining family (consisting of his grown up son and daughter, played with marvellous acidity by Justin Kirk and Gillian Anderson) also reflects situations many people experience in later years. Your family may think – as Matthew’s children do – that they are making decisions with your best interest at heart. In reality however they are just as afraid as you of what the future holds, and that their actions may be seen as a betrayal of the past.
It is appropriate that a film – as intrinsically involved with the subject of love in all its diverse forms as this one is – should play out against the backdrop of the ‘City of Love’. Paris, with its faded and romantic bohemianism is the city-like embodiment of Matthew himself. A retired philosophy teacher, his character appears perfectly at home in his expensively appointed yet comfortable apartment with windows which open onto stunning views of the Eiffel Tower across a sea of gabled rooftops which sadly one feels probably only exists in the movies.
Mr Morgan’s Last Love is one of those films – like the hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) – which sees growing old as a positive part of life’s rich cycle. As such it should instil in the viewer a renewed confidence with which to face the uncertainties of the future.