Individuals grow and develop throughout their life. They pass through different stages of life such as birth and infancy (0 to 2 years), early childhood (3 to 8 years), adolescence (9 to 18 years), early adulthood (19 to 45 years), middle adulthood (46 to 65 years), and later adulthood (post-65 years). This paper studies different characters from two films On Golden Pond (Rydell, 1981) and Little Miss Sunshine (Dayton & Faris, 2006) at different stages of life to understand their biological, cognitive, and social/emotional differences.
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On Golden Pond
On Golden Pond is a movie mainly about Norman, Ethel, and Billy. Norman, 80, is in his late adulthood, Ethel, in middle adulthood, and Billy is a 13-year-old adolescent. The other characters are Chelsea and Billy Senior, who are in their middle adulthood.
Biological changes are inevitable with age. Norman, who is older than Ethel, is less energetic. Both Norman and Ethel show distinct signs of aging. They are frail with wrinkled skin and stooping back (Rydell, 1981). However, Norman is shaky while walking and lacks balance, while Ethel is agile and swift. On the other hand, Chelsea is more energetic and athletic, and Billy being an adolescent, is vibrant and full of life. However, when Norman spends more time with the adolescent boy, his physical fitness seems to improve (Rydell, 1981). This may be due to the increase in physical activity. Motor skills are impaired as an individual enters later adulthood; however, this may be improved with physical activity (Payne & Isaacs, 2016).
Both Norman and Ethel show vision impairment as they have to use spectacles or magnifying glass to read (Rydell, 1981). Norman has difficulty in seeing in the dark and shows less visual acuity and adaptability to darkness. Deficiency in vision is an inevitable part of old age, and it worsens as one moves from middle to later adulthood (Payne & Isaacs, 2016).
Norman is unsure of names, situations, and events. At the beginning of the film, Norman takes a walk alone in the woods, but after some time, forgets where he is (Rydell, 1981). He panics as he becomes unsure of his surroundings and runs back home. Older adults are believed to face daily memory loss, especially after they reach the seventies (Moran, 2013). The reason for this impaired recall is the changes in the hippocampal declarative memory in relation to non-declarative memory (Derksen et al., 2015). Further, research has also proven that with age, the mental ability and capacity to remember also reduces (Pearlman-Avnion, Lazar, & Muschinsky, 2016).
Norman’s zeal for life is restored when he develops a bond with Billy. He shows signs of intelligence during their squabbles. Norman’s wit is evident when Billy Senior asks him about bears in the wood. Norman reads the newspaper, and his interest in books is still evident. Further, the board game that Norman and Ethel often play and the former becomes the winner clearly demonstrates his agile mind.
Billy is an adolescent who has to live for a few days with the two elderly couples. Initially, he is resilient, impolite, and non-conforming. However, when Norman spends a lot of time with the boy, he too develops a friendship with this old man from whom he learns about rustic living. The cognitive ability of adolescents is as good as an adult, but at this age they can learn more than at any other age. Their capability to learn and adapt makes their cognitive faculty very strong.
Social and emotional relationships shown in the film are both traditional and unconventional. For instance, Norman and Ethel have a convectional marriage while Chelsea and Billy Sr. has an unconventional relationship. Further, Ethel is a very positive person who looks into the brighter side of things while Norman is a cynical pessimist. During their first interaction, Norman gets irritated with Billy’s continuous badgering and sends him away to his room with a book. However, this perpetual ill temper is considerably diminished when he strikes a friendship with Billy.
Like most adolescents, Billy too was reluctant to stay with the old couple. He was revolting and rude. However, as they become friends, Billy sheds his impetuous shell and changes.
Little Miss Sunshine
This tragi-comic drama shows six characters of three different ages. Olive is in middle childhood and Dwayne an adolescent. Uncle Frank, Sheryl, and Richard are entering middle adulthood, while Grandpa is entering late adulthood (Dayton & Faris, 2006). The physical differences in appearance clearly show the different age groups the characters belong. Grandpa is old with wrinkled skin and stooping back. These are inevitable signs of old age (Moran, 2013). Sheryl, Richard, and Uncle Frank are more agile and physically fit. Adolescent Dwayne is lanky and taciturn and Olive is a sweet little girl who is curious and accepting. She is plump as most children are in their middle childhood. Grandpa is mostly strong, except when he is unable to cope with the hectic journey and dies in the motel.
The younger characters – Dwayne and Olive – are intelligent. Dwayne to become is rebellious and so he does things that set him apart from others. He has a sharp mind as he reads Nietzsche and aspires to become a pilot. Olive is just a child – simple, innocent, and enquiring. In her innocent naiveté, she often asks the most probing questions that make the adults uneasy. Grandpa is old but the mental and cognitive impairments that come with later adulthood are not apparent in his character. Further, risk-taking propensity is shown higher among middle-aged adults than in older adults (Josef et al., 2016). Uncle Frank and Richard had taken risk with their life – Frank had tried to commit suicide and Richard invested all his savings to do something new. Such behavior is not apparent in Sheryl who though belonging to the same age group acts more conventionally.
Emotional and social bonding is apparent in the film. Sheryl rushes to the hospital to help her brother who had tried to commit suicide. She brings him to her house from the hospital. The ability to care for others is an innate character of adult development (Derksen et al., 2015). Initially Sheryl’s family seemed almost dysfunctional but in the end they show immense love for one another. Dwayne shows love for his mother when his grandfather is in the hospital when he asks Olive to go and hug their mother. Dwayne is mostly unsocial and does not talk to anyone. But his love for Olive is evident when he comes back to the bus when Olive goes to fetch him. Thus, the bond between siblings irrespective of age is demonstrated in the film. Passion and sensitivity grows all through adolescence and declines during adulthood (Zimmermann & Iwanski, 2014). Dwayne’s emotional volatility is evident from his outburst of disappointment.
Lifespan development stages demonstrate various physical and psychological changes that individuals encounter. These changes are clearly seen in the characters of On Golden Pond and Little Miss Sunshine. The challenges of old age and adolescence, and the changes that socialization brings are beautifully depicted in both the films.
Dayton, J., & Faris, V. (Directors). (2006). Little miss sunshine [Motion Picture]. United Staes: Fox Searchlight Pictures.
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