Cloud 9

Every once in a while you will see a movie that you know you could not have watched until you reached a certain age, an age that appreciates the idea of love and sex long into one’s “old age.” This is such a movie. I watched Cloud 9 last night on Netflix instant play and was engrossed from the beginning. This German movie (with subtitles)  explored the 30 year marriage (?) and passionate affair of a 60-year-old woman named Inge Werner.  She’s a seamstress  who sews out of her home. Inge meets an older man of 76 who comes to her home to have his trousers altered. They are instantly attracted to each other and one day, after delivering his clothes to him at his apartment they make love in the most touching, fumbling, unembarrassed, and abandoned scene I’ve ever seen on film. It was not perfect. Their bodies are shown in all of their aging glory. Young people will no doubt be grossed out. Even people in their 30s who still believe we shall be fit and “beautiful” according to society’s standards long into their 60s will no doubt be horrified.  But I was touched and gratified that it was dealt with honestly and truthfully.

I, for one, am extremely glad that someone has the audacity to show mature sex in all its grittiness and gloriousness. It shows that we are never too old for love and sexual activity and that sometimes things don’t always go as we neatly plan it to go. Sex isn’t a sure thing sometimes, but it’s merely an affectionate and loving expression of something much larger. There are different kinds of relationships and different kinds of sex along with them. Once Inge falls for Karl, she is torn between the comfortable relationship with her husband (and we are never told if they are married or not) Werner and the excitement she feels for the first time with Karl. We find out from the story that Werner helped raise her daughter, so we know he had come on the scene when she needed him the most. Inge has a close relationship with her daughter Petra and tells her about it. Petra advises her to keep quiet about it to Werner and not to hurt him but that she could continue the affair if she wants to and no one would no. She is happy for her mother’s happiness. From there, it’s an agonizing decision for Inge to do just that or to finally tell Werner.

What I love about this movie is that I know moralizers will predictably fall on either side of the issue. Those who believe that a 30 year friendship and comfortable relationship trumps excitement and passion will intone about the sanctity of marriage although, again, we are never told that Werner and Inge are married. Those who value open relationships as healthy will see the possibilities of carrying on with the affair as an added bonus to a comfortable life but would no doubt advise Inge to be truthful. When Inge finally does tell Werner, her agony is the real truth when she says, “I never wanted this to happen!” When Werner is angry she asks him why they cannot talk about it, and right there is the problem with their relationship. They live comfortably side by side and do not talk, share, laugh much, or even share many interests. They are comfortable. Just comfortable. One of the key issues in the movie, for me anyway, is that everyone thinks that the right thing to do is not to rock the boat of all that stability put in place, as if life doesn’t happen to you all the time and adjustments always have to be made. Humans are creatures who want nice, neat, packaged solutions and who crave stability and orderliness as something akin to “godliness.” Anything thing that upsets that orderliness is verboten. They all wondered about Werner’s happiness, but no one advised Inge to embrace her happiness openly and freely. It’s about what women trade for their happiness and the price they pay for it.

I will say that the ending was unexpected and very sad and bittersweet. I found myself wiping away many tears at the end. Life is messy and we can’t go through it without hurting people we care about or without hurting ourselves either.  Most of us plan our lives down to the last detail and stick with it, knowing that one upset of this ordered life may send us over the edge and we might have to confront messy feelings or thoughts. Some accept another’s prescription of life and try to follow that even to our own hurt and destruction. Life is less static than that and more fluid, if we allow it.  Some embrace openness and find love or trouble or sometimes both at once. But love, if allowed, will trump all else in the end. It may leave a painful path, but it’s ultimately our responsibility to choose our own path and accept the consequences once they come.

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2 thoughts on “Cloud 9

  1. I’m glad someone had the courage to make this movie.
    “It shows that we are never too old for love
    and sexual activity and that sometimes things don’t always go as we neatly plan it
    to go. Sex isn’t a sure thing sometimes, but it’s merely an affectionate and loving
    expression of something much larger. There are different kinds of relationships and
    different kinds of sex along with them.”

    I’ve been thinking about this from the point of view of the participants in a relationship, and from the point of view of those outside it.

    The participants may completely agree with your words here, and yet still find themselves struggling with externally imposed ideas about what they ought to be doing or feeling. Journalists may talk of having “great sex”, as if there might be some absolute definition of what this means. Many are taught to confuse some notion of sexual performance with adequacy. To know that what you say is true is one thing, to internalise it is, as you say, where love comes in. To rid ourselves of the notion that sex is some kind of task list. If I and someone I love can take pleasure in each other, and find the experience enjoyable, satisfying, life enhancing, or love enhancing, then it doesn’t matter what we actually do. This is easier to know than to fully absorb, but I’m absolutely certain you’re right.

    Outsiders are more easily dealt with. It’s clear that many people think their opinions are of great and mysterious significance. I can understand a teenager being “grossed out” by the prospect of geriatric copulation; first because they haven’t thought about it, and second because popular culture teaches them that action and feeling are the property of the young. Whereas of course, I may or may not choose to be interested in whether or not someone else does or does not like sun dried tomatoes, but it goes no deeper than that.

    The insiders must remember to look to each other, and ignore the outsiders.

  2. Reg, It’s the insider/outsider view that I find compelling. The best truism is that we need to walk a mile in another’s shoes to fully understand them or their journey. I know I’ve tried to do that in my life, especially recently. This ability is called empathy, something I never used to have a capacity for. I’m convinced that the young cannot feel empathy as much as older people do. I know this is from life experience. I did things in my youth without any thought to someone else. It was indeed, all about me. But we carry that into our aging years and some never learn the skill of empathy or they assume that no one else has it either, that we haven’t thought long and hard about certain decisions, or that we are reckless and without deep thought. I’m guilty of that as well; assuming others have not thought about things, especially when it comes to Christianity or adopting ideologies. But I digress. No one knows what it’s like unless they live it, but at least we can put ourselves in the other’s shoes and try to understand. If we refuse to do that, then we refuse to cultivate empathy. The film is easy to criticize. It takes a bigger person to try to understand and not automatically apply an ideology of our own. As for sex, yes, only the insiders know and the outsiders have no business intruding upon that.

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