The age-old search for the fountain of youth is engagingly appraised in “The Immortalists,” a lively documentary focusing on a pair of very different biomedical scientists who are equally obsessed with eradicating the ravages of time.
Finding a cure for aging has long been the domain of assorted quacks and charlatans, but 63-year-old Bill Andrews, a molecular biologist based in Reno, and 51-year-old Aubrey de Grey, a bio-gerontologist from Cambridge, England, both believe they’re onto something.
Andrews, whose motto is “cure aging or die trying,” is pinning his hopes on a 2011 Harvard experiment involving an enzyme called telomerase that successfully reversed aging in genetically modified mice.
De Grey, meanwhile, who sports a 2-foot-long beard, believes the life-lengthening answer lies in the SENS method, his seven-step plan that involves purging cells of age-related garbage rather than attempting to reverse the aging process.
As presented by filmmakers David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg, both men are also certified eccentrics.
When not dabbling in their respective labs, health-conscious Andrews enters extreme long-distance marathons. (Might he be trying to outrun his own mortality?)
Hedonistic De Grey relaxes by hoisting a pint in his local pub and occasionally picnicking nude with his considerably older wife, geneticist Adelaide Carpenter.
But if Andrews is portrayed as something of a Steve Jobs to De Grey’s John Lennon, their shared quest would seem to be motivated as much by their own aging parents and personal health issues as it does by a concern for society at large.
Although the film touches on the inherent challenges of living forever, “The Immortalists” goes admittedly light on debating the ideological and sociological ramifications, save for all-too-brief appearances by members of the scientific community less keen on the idea.
That would include British neurobiologist Colin Blakemore, who contends the defeat of aging would be “a disaster for humanity and the planet.”
Along with immortality comes the added strain on natural resources, not to mention the conceivable need for reassessment of the traditional “till death do us part” notion of marriage. (Apparently getting a jump on the latter, De Grey admits to juggling two younger girlfriends, despite his wife’s clear disapproval.)
At the end of the day, although it’s unlikely that either De Grey or Andrews will succeed in stopping the biological clock, you can’t blame them for trying.
From Methuselah to Vasco da Gama to Cher, it’s a pursuit that never seems to get old.
No MPAA rating.
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle’s NoHo 7, North Hollywood.