Film-maker Andrew Hasse recently released a short documentary about his 97-year-old grandfather, Herbert Fingarette who passed away in 2018.
The film, Being 97, shows Fingarette, in scenes from his life, discussing what it means and what it feels like to face one’s own mortality. This all the more interesting due to the fact that Fingarette was a professor of philosophy at the University of California Santa Barbara for over forty years and spent his life thinking about how one ought to live in order to live well. Emily Buder of The Atlantic, describes it this way,
“Being 97 is a poignant film that explores the interiority of senescence and the struggle of accepting the inevitable. Hasse quietly observes the things that have come to define his grandfather’s existence: the stillness of time, the loss of ability, and the need to come to terms with asking for help. “It’s very difficult for people who have not reached a state of old age to understand the psychology of it, what is going on in a person,” Fingarette says.”
More striking about this man is that 20 years ago his final published book was on death. In it, he grappled with the meaning of death and came to the conclusion that death means nothing since there is nothing beyond this life and thus should illicit neither fear nor dread in us.
That was then, however, now the prospect of losing his life – the reality of death – has caused him to confront the question of death more intensely and more personally. The rigidity and stoicism has lessened. He began to question the pride of his early claims and to realize that life and death are much more complicated. The take away from the film, other than the gripping portrayal of aging and its struggles (something we must all reckon with), seems to be that there may be more to death. It could be that our desire to hold on to life tells us something about what death means. Even for a hardened philosopher, facing one’s end brings humility and perhaps a sense of the mystery of eternity – that there may be more to our lives. It may also illustrate that reason without faith and beauty leads in the end not to freedom but to a dark 1aprison of our own making.