Very few films have been made with seniors as the main characters. It seems that Hollywood producers are convinced we prefer to see younger people on the screen — and they’re probably right. “Cocoon” is a rare elderly-focused take on the fountain of youth concept, an ancient motif that’s enough proof in itself that humans desire young age, whether in general or at the movies. Although science fiction, “Cocoon” is simple and mild-mannered like its lovable old protagonists. It might be light on drama but it’s big on heart.
Loaded with stars from yesteryear, among them Don Ameche, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy and Gwen Verdon, one could say “Cocoon” was an ’80s alien movie made specifically for an older crowd. And that’s fair — they deserve it. It’s as if director Ron Howard was hoping to give his cast some of their youth back in letting them take prominence in the film, based on a story by David Saperstein and screenplay by Tom Benedek. It’s not riveting sci-fi material but it prompts an honest conversation about aging, one that in reality someone of any age could understand and appreciate.
The film takes place in a senior living center in St. Petersburg, Florida. As part of their recreation time, three of the senior men enjoy swimming in the abandoned pool just through the woods around the center. When a strange group of people come in and buy the old house and rent a boat at the dock, the stubborn old guys still come to swim in the pool, only it appears the people are storing rocks in the water. They swim anyway and find that with the rocks in the pool (actually alien cocoons) that they feel energetic, rejuvenated — and younger.
Howard’s film is easygoing. There is not a lot of suspense or gripping conflict. Instead, you watch and get a kick out of the way these seniors and their wives behave having been affected by the water. Their sex drive, for example, reappears to comic effect and there’s general misbehavior. They all come off as bigger children and each have a different reaction to this “cheating” of age. Thus the film’s core conflict of whether it’s right to defy nature appears and guides the rest of the film. It’s a replacement for any major form of antagonism.
“Cocoon” is touching because the story is very frank in portraying these seniors as having nothing to live for but each other and whatever remaining family they have. When you’re that old, a chance at prolonged life is like being granted a whole new world of opportunity whereas you’re just biding time when you’re old and physically and mentally unable to do the things you used to.
There have been better stories, better special effects (although this one an Oscar in 1985) and better science-fiction films, so “Cocoon” is best appreciated as a unique film about old age, something movies rarely focus entirely upon.