Acting their age

February 8, 2019

Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin negotiate growing old with heart and humour. 



Growing old is a comic tragedy. Ask anyone who’s spent 15 minutes wandering around the house with spectacles on their forehead asking, “Has anyone seen my glasses?” But it’s also no laughing matter. The older we get, the more we discover we’re still fighting the same failings we were combating in our teens. With such material to draw on, it’s no surprise new Netflix comedy series, The Kominsky Method, has collected critical applause and awards at the Golden Globes.

The Kominsky Method is testimony to how much real meaning two great actors can inject into a relatively simple idea. Michael Douglas plays Sandy Kominsky, an actor who had a brief fling with success decades ago and is now a revered acting coach.

Alan Arkin is Norman Newlander, Sandy’s long-time agent and his closest friend. The title might lead you to think this is a tale about a fading actor trying to find his place in the sun. But in reality it’s an often amusing, frequently moving reminder about what it means to grow old. The result has earned a Golden Globe for Best TV Comedy, and Douglas the Globe for Best Actor in the same category.

The Kominsky Method is structured very much like The Odd Couple or Grumpy Old Men. Douglas’s Sandy is passionate and devil-may-care in his take on life. He’s also relationally selfish and on the verge of bankruptcy. Arkin’s Norman is conservative and pessimistic. He’s also quietly successful and committed to those he loves in a curmudgeonly sort of way. 

So, there are all the sparks you’d expect as the two navigate the bumps on life’s senior highway together. What they share, though, is the need to find something permanent in a passing world. Their bodies are betraying them, their careers are unsatisfying and, saddest of all, their relationships are slipping away. Norman’s wife has died, leaving a huge hole in his life, and Sandy is reaping the fruit of two failed marriages. 


What emerges is a modern portrayal of some of the world’s most ancient wisdom. Three thousand years ago, King Solomon wrote a book called Ecclesiastes on what was really worth doing in life. 

He warned his readers nothing on Earth really satisfied, because nothing really lasted, so it would be a good idea to realise this before you got too old. “Remember your Creator now while you are young—before the silver cord of life snaps…and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:6–7).

Sandy and Norman haven’t got there yet, but they’re asking the right questions. The Kominsky Method’s success has guaranteed it will return for a second season. 

But since I can’t guarantee either you or I will be around to see it, I’m suggesting we give some thought to Solomon’s wisdom, before we become the next punchline.

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