Some Kind Of Heaven (2020) - like most great documentaries - reserves judgement. Its young director, Lance Oppenheimer - funded by Darren Aronofsky - carefully selects an array of colourful characters from The Villages, the largest retirement community in the world. Endearingly idiosyncratic in a way only Americans can be, the cast take to the stage and shine.
Described as Disneyland for adults, The Villages’ inhabitants exist in a Baudrillardian bubble of hyperreality. The urban planning of a 1950s model town is both eerily familiar and strikingly ‘other’; constructed to rekindle the nostalgic longings of boomer youth. Eager to exit from a world judged to be fallen and degenerate, many of these elderly ironically adopt the rampant hedonism of late modernity.
The documentary's principal characters are Reggie, Barbara and Dennis. Reggie’s line of flight is a perilously spiritual one, including drugs and reheated eastern philosophy - entirely at odds with his wife’s sensible outlook. Barbara’s journey is one of healing and recalibrating her life meaning. She’s a sharp soul, deeply aware of the encroaching artifice. Dennis is the disillusioned grifter, tenaciously clinging on to his bygone posterboy image; reaffirming the Dostoevskian adage that man repeats the first half of life in the second.
Oppenheimer, clearly influenced by Aronofsky’s visual flair, peppers the film with deeply arresting images; Reggie sways in a swimming pool, high as a kite, at one with the lighting of a passing thunderstorm; Barbara excels in her drama piece in a particularly poignant scene; and Dennis comically litters a woman’s garden with his world possessions as he hastily parks his golf cart at the next port of call, f2oreshadowing possible strife to come.
As the documentary progresses, a Ballardian suspicion arises: where might all this hedonistic nihilism lead? Not, hopefully, to the prophetic violence of the gated communities in High Rise, Super Cannes, and Cocaine Nights. Yet there is a pervasive unease bubbling at the surface; even if whims are catered for, this simulation is merely prepping the elderly for a final hoorah in the sun, alienating them from genuine edification in the twilight years.