#SciFiSunday: Advantageous & The Future Of Aging

By Carolyn Mauricette (@vfdpixie)

As a middle-aged woman who doesn’t look or feel her age, I am still very aware of how growing older excludes you from the club of progressive youth.  It is difficult to find one’s place in the millennial world, with activities such as job searches and dating catering more to the young and hip who fit the target market, while fashion choices leave me wondering if I am too old to shop in some stores or still too young (and broke) to shop in others. It is a conundrum of how you are perceived and accepted in society and what you perceive your real self to be. 

This culture of smooth skin, slim bodies, fresh ideas and technology running rampant under the banner of healthy living for a new age is nothing new; it is a cycle of life that leaves those of us who are near or at the age where we don’t fit in struggling to find a footing. In Jennifer Phang’s feature film Advantageous, we get a first-hand account of what the consequences of aging and a woman’s place in the not-so distant future would be like if we had the choice and the means to renew ourselves.

In 2041, women are losing their jobs, rebels regularly bomb shining towers of capitalism, and fertility issues grow as our DNA deteriorates. Gwen Koh (Jaqueline Kim) is an executive at the Centre for Advanced Health and Living, an elitist self-improvement conglomerate. She is spearheading a new, less invasive cosmetic procedure in which an aging, ailing person can transfer their “selves” or consciousness into a new younger body of their choice. Gwen is also the face of the centre, however, she herself is showing signs of aging and is let go because of this. At the same time, her daughter Jules (Samantha Kim), an intelligent and ironically older than her years ‘tween, is competing to get into a prestigious school with a large tuition, and Gwen’s job situation couldn’t have come at a worse time. She is desperate to get Jules into school, where her chances of having a better life would be almost guaranteed. Strapped for money, Gwen explores many avenues from a fruitless job search to considering selling her eggs and asking unwilling family members for help.

In the end, Gwen decides to make herself a walking experiment for her old job. She spins herself as the ideal spokesperson, knowing the transformation would provide her with the funds she needs for Jules and the means to get her job back. With a heavy heart, she, with the help of her wary daughter, chooses a younger body to inhabit. What ensues is a heartbreaking vision of a future society perpetuating an impossible vision of youth and vitality, alienation of women and an aging population, and the desperation of a mother who wants to ensure a better future for her child.

As an overall film, Advantageous was beautifully done on a low budget, with believable CGI, emotional portrayals without histrionics, and a thought-provoking plot.  Phang, a long-time fan of science-fiction, expanded a short film of the same name she created for PBS Futurestates in 2012.  Co-written with Jaqueline Kim who played Gwen in both films, it is a representation of Phang’s exploration of women, the world’s obsession with youth, wealth, beauty, technology and their impact on a future society.  

I was elated to see a film with a mostly women of colour cast. As a viewer who is sadly still looking for a realistic representation of minorities in film, especially one about the future where visible minorities will probably be the majority, it was nice not to obsessively search the background for someone that looked like me, or someone who looked like any visible minority. It felt like an actual “slice of life” film with an Asian-American protagonist who lived a normal life, not one rife with Asian gangs or some sinister criminal element.  She was also a single mother who just wanted the best for her child, and a hugely flawed individual which made empathy for her easy.

What I’d like to focus on is Phang and Kim’s vision of a bleak but feasible future for women. In a world where we fawn over youth and beauty, a façade of perfection that we all know is impossible to maintain but fall for anyway. It sits center stage to the monetization of women and their bodies. We have been conditioned to want all of the wisdom but look like a 20 year old lingerie model and keep all of our life experience but none of the aches, pains and more serious ailments of aging. It is a literal representation of the wistful do-over, promising those who can afford to change their bodies with a better standing in life, or maintain their place in the upper echelon. We are presented with a thoughtful series of moral consequences that most of us may not consider, like Gwen’s new host body, where she came from, and just how much of Gwen’s personality she would retain. 

There is also the question of women and their place in the future. Gwen makes a difficult, risky and extreme choice when her options are limited by the economic powers around her. With all the leaps and bounds we’ve made with the feminist movement over the decades, Phang presents a world where women suffer from a backlash due to high unemployment rates, forcing them to either head out into the streets homeless or back into the home to keep “desperate men” off the streets, sacrificing feminist progress to keep things “safer”. Not only is age our enemy in the future, but also the perception that we are threat, and not a boon, to the work force. Class also plays strongly here, as Gwen must impress wealthy mothers in order to get Jules a place on a waiting list for this prestigious prep school. It seems that in the future, the haves and have nots are separated by an even bigger chasm than now. Another aspect that is intriguing is Gwen’s younger host body. This woman, who appears to be racially ambiguous and more in tune with what this future society deems as an acceptable, market-friendly minority, is chosen so Jules also has a better chance at being accepted. This seems to be a calculated choice by Gwen, who cashes in her dignity chips in the hopes of creating an easier life for her daughter.  

Who or what does this nefarious market represent, and who is it trying to appease? How far away are we from a future where older women become disposable and disenfranchised, or where it is okay to pick a socially acceptable race to get ahead? Millennials and Baby Boomers are at odds right now as changes in the workplace and economy morph and divide generations, and since women of a certain age and race are often excluded from popular culture in this era, it is not difficult to see the truth in the film’s plot. Advances in technology will soon allow people to change their eye color, and we can already zap wrinkles and pigmentation into submission, so is it only a matter of time until changing skin tone follows suit? These are all questions that may already have answers, but hopefully those answers will be changed by pressure from visible minority women, old and young alike, who realize their economic power.

Propaganda spouting hope for the future is overshadowed by a subtle but harsh reality in Advantageous. Class, age, race and gender all come into play as women vie for a foothold to keep their heads above the proverbial water. Like other dystopian sci-fi films before her such as Logan’s Run, Children of Men and Code 46, Phang has successfully created a thoughtful film about where we draw the line with society’s youth-centric end game that trades in experience for the superficial. As men become more distinguished as they age and women often become forgettable,  I wonder how long we can maintain the façade of younger is better before we admit that women at all stages of life are beautiful, valuable and viable, and that aging should be honored and not shunned?

Carolyn is a film programmer for the Blood in the Snow Film Festival and a contributing author to the first edition of the Women in Horror Annual, The Encyclopedia of Japanese Horror Films (Rowman & Littlefield), and The Encyclopedia of Racism in American Films (Rowman & Littlefield). She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and has also written pieces on diversity and women in sci-fi for Graveyard Shift Sisters, film reviews for Cinema Axis, and Rue Morgue Magazine, online and in print, and articles in Grim Magazine. Her focus is on independent and Canadian horror, women in horror, and the representation of people of color within the genre. She has a new site, View From The Dark, where she deep dives into race and representation of people of color in genre film. You can follow her on Twitter (@vfdpixie)

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