“I can’t imagine being 30!” Yes, I was one of those foolish young people who equated 30 with ancient and could not fathom numbers beyond that. Looking back, I’m confident the adults around me looked at me with “damn brat” glares or a smirk of wisdom. While all youths aren’t like this, many can’t imagine life—and age—beyond the near future. That’s why admonishing kids to do better in school feels like we are in The Twilight Zone. You know the episode where middle-aged, bitter Anne chases her younger self to warn her only for young Anne to make the wrong choice, reach middle age, and again chase down her younger version? It seems we are doomed to repeat the words heard in our youth, only to have the process repeat when those youths get older.
“This is the face of terror,” in your best Rod Serling voice. THE AMUSEMENT PARK is not George Romero’s familiar zombie movie horror. But this recently discovered and restored in 4k film has a subtle dread despite the absence of the undead. The antagonist isn’t age or growing old. It’s us—the younger generations and society that discount older people as useless.
The film follows Lincoln Maazel as an elderly man who suffers the pains, indignities, and humiliations of growing old in an uncaring America. They use the amusement park rides and crowds as an allegory to convey the experience. Lincoln Maazel opens with a monologue about the film and the compound effect of age when combined with various factors such as economic status, lack of healthcare and it’s still impactful now.
Then Lincoln enters a room where a battered, worn and despondent Lincoln wearily sits. Fresh and optimistic Lincoln tries to talk to him, then decides to leave, despite beaten Lincoln’s warnings that “There’s nothing outside.” The nothing Lincoln speaks of is what awaits people who are too old, have few family or friends and little economic security. THE AMUSEMENT PARK is not only an indictment on the disregard for the elderly; it’s a judgment on the capitalist system that regards people as means of financial hoarding for the wealthy. When someone is elderly; their role in capitalism is no longer viable and they are cast aside.
The direction and angles are definitely Romero, so it doesn’t disappoint. The action is minor and can feel trivial. However, when you understand it in the larger context of the film—thanks to Lincoln’s monologue—the scenes feel horrible to witness. Seeing the signs on the rides, that restrict access are endemic of societal restrictions as a whole. Instead of making something accessible, they’d rather make it exclusive. There are some audio issues with the film, given its age but it is a powerful message delivered in Romero’s signature style.
When we realize Romero made this film 46 years ago, it adds another emotional layer. Little has changed. Every shift away from the white male—youth included—is an invisible strike against the person. However, people like Lincoln Maazel and the rest of the elderly cast in the film feel it with every interaction. The mistreatment of the old, the poor, the disabled is ongoing, as is the fight for change. Yet, it feels like we are Sisyphus straining to push the boulder up the hill, only to begin the process again inevitably. Instead, we avoid and stick our heads in the sand under the misguided belief that not facing their mortality will allow us to disregard our own. This may be an uncomfortable mirror for some viewers. We often forget that all of us, if we live long enough, will be at the Amusement Park.
George A. Romero’s THE AMUSEMENT PARK will be released on Shudder on June 8th.