Archetypes: Film: Review: ‘While We’re Young’ (2015)



In the creation of art, does the maker’s lack of adherence to a solid level of truthiness nullify the creation? That’s the question posed by Noah Baumbach, the writer and director of While We’re Young, who uses two couples from different generations as his conduits.

Representing the mid-40s demographic is married couple Josh and Cornelia. Josh (Ben Stiller) is a conscientious responsible filmmaker who, for the past decade, has been trying to secure funding to finish his dry-as-toast epic political documentary. Cornelia (Naomi Watts) is a producer in her own right whose esteemed documentary-filmmaker father, Leslie (Charles Grodin), is about to receive a prestigious award. Childless, Josh and Cornelia exhausted all baby-making medical options years ago. And now that their best friends in their peer group – Marina (Maria Dizzia) and Fletcher (Adam Horovitz) – have had a baby, the duo pull away from their pals’ boring infant-centric activities.

What fills this friendship void is a two-decades younger married couple, Renaissance guy Jamie (Adam Driver) and artisan ice-cream maker Darby (Amanda Seyfried), who connect with Josh after they’ve audited one of his film lectures. With the specter of encroaching age and the heaviness of his incomplete documentary weighing on him, Josh is ripe for Jamie’s praise about Josh’s early work. Before you know it, Josh has succumbed to Jamie’s sartorial makeover advice, and Cornelia is joining Darby at hip hop dance classes. As the oldsters increase their idealization of the Brooklyn-dwelling younger couple and put them ever higher up on a pedestal, the snake in the grass is reliably headed in their direction. When the serpent does rear its head, it’s ugly.

The contrasting beliefs about what defines a work of art – is it authenticity and detail, or the work’s broad-based likeability and power to affect viewers emotionally? – are well depicted through the behaviors of these four key players. Although Baumbach does not make this a youth vs. age movie, the generational gap lays out the archetypal undercurrents.

What initially wows Josh and Cornelia – their new friends’ spontaneity, inspiration-fueled output and Uranian-sparked rebellion and innovation; their in-your-face low-tech lifestyle is also radically non-conformist – eventually becomes questionable. Josh would like to think it’s the Saturnine Senex – representing rules, discipline and doing what has always been done – that should be calling the shots. At one point, he refers to Jamie and Darby as “entitled little brats.” The danger, suggests Baumbach, is when one is tempted to superficially shifts gears. As Fletcher reminds the fedora-wearing Josh, then in the throes of his bromance with Jamie: “You’re an old man with a hat.”

Archetype: Senex. Youth. Creator. Ethicist. Manipulator.

Astrology Archetype: ♄ ♅ (Saturn, Uranus)

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