American Studies ETDs

Publication Date



This dissertation examines how to think critically about the ways in which aging and old age are understood, represented, and problematized in American popular film. Rather than subscribe to the narrative of decline that views growing older as a linear process of chronological and biological deterioration with no possibility of gain, this dissertation reveals the shared meanings, discourses, narratives, and philosophical positions that underlie constructions such as the narrative of decline, and that populate the screen in contemporary film, to be both historical and open to revision. Chapter 2, therefore, explores the ways in which film simultaneously relies on stereotypical depictions of older men to keep them within socially acceptable bounds and challenges these boundaries through the creation of alternate masculinities. Chapter 3 critiques not only the cultural devaluation that older women face due to their changing bodies, but the continuing invisibility of the structural and institutional policies that lead to economic and social inequalities that constrain their lives. An examination of the ways in which the cognitive changes associated with Alzheimer's disease are made comprehensible in movies, chapter 4 asks for a reconsideration of the definitions of memory and self that underlie the way we characterize, accept, or reject the personhood of those with dementia. And chapter 5 considers films that problematize the distinction between representation and reality in order to suggest how particular constructions of time and space on which normative assumptions about aging are based might be revised to better reflect our entanglement in the world at any age. By learning to view popular film as part of a cultural struggle over meanings that are never fixed nor natural, and as part of contested practices of representation and creation intimately connected to the way we understand and live our lives, this critical approach to film can enable not only the recognition of other ways to age, but the creation of alternate narratives that will allow the full diversity and potential of all those who grow old to become both visible and livable.




film, aging, ageism

Document Type


Degree Name

American Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

American Studies

First Committee Member (Chair)

A. Gabriel Meléndez

Second Committee Member

Vera Norwood

Third Committee Member

Alyosha Goldstein

Fourth Committee Member

Janet Cramer

Fifth Committee Member

Margaret Cruikshank