Comparison of Aging in About Schmidt and Kotch, Essay Example
The fictional films About Schmidt and Kotch illustrate various challenges faced by senior citizens. Three specific aspects which the films detail are the changing of interpersonal relationships, the loss of a spouse, and certain psychosocial aspects of aging. Both films parallel the stories of two aging men in the process of self-discovery, but the different outcomes are influenced by the main characters’ personalities and their decisions about the events in their lives.
About Schmidt tells the story of Warren Schmidt, a recent retiree and widower who engages on a journey of self-reflection while traveling through Nebraska. After his wife’s death, he sets out to stop his daughter from marrying a man he views to be unworthy. When she asks him to delay his visit, he uses the time to travel through Nebraska in the Winnebago he and his wife purchased shortly before her death. Throughout the film, Schmidt relates his experiences through a series of letters to Ndugo, an African boy he sponsors.
Kotch describes the changes in the life of Joe Kotcher, “Kotch.” He is a widower who lives with his son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. When his daughter-in-law no longer wants Kotch to baby-sit his grandson, she hires Erica to replace him. It is soon discovered that Erica is pregnant and has been expelled from high school. After she leaves, Kotch wants to resume watching his grandson, but his son and daughter-in-law attempt to place him in a retirement home. Kotch makes the decision to travel instead and after discovering that Erica is struggling, he decides to take care of her during her pregnancy.
- Interpersonal relationships
Interpersonal relationships are always subject to change. Many senior citizens must deal with changing dynamics in the interactions with their families. Both Kotch and Schmidt are struggling in their relationships with their adult children. Though the films have different outcomes, both portray this struggle in a realistic and relatable manner. Kotch is able to resolve the problems with his family, where Schmidt is not. Schmidt idolizes the relationship with his daughter Jeannie, but in reality, the two are very distant. After his wife passes, he attempts to take a more active role in Jeannie’s life, but she pushes him away. At his wife’s funeral, Jeannie consoles him, but when he requests that she stay home and care for him, she refuses. Schmidt does not approve of Jeannie’s fiancé, a waterbed salesman. Another harsh reality Schmidt must face is the realization that Jeanie does not need him. When he decides to visit her a few weeks early before her wedding, she tells him not to come until the date they had originally planned. He brings up him sending her money and she quickly gets off the phone. In his letters to Ndugu, he lies and says that she wanted him to come early, but he was the one who rejected her offer because he needed time to himself. The final realization is when Schmidt tries to talk her out of marrying her fiancé, where she then berates him for not taking an interest in her life previously.
Kotch appears to have a better grasp on his relationships. He is happy watching his grandson, but his daughter-in-law has many complaints against him. She hires a baby-sitter, Erica, to replace him. Kotch, in confidence tells his son of his discovery of Erica being intimate with her boyfriend. His son violates this trust and tells his wife. Afterwards, Kotch’s son and daughter-in-law attempt to put him in a retirement home, at which point, Kotch decides to take a personal vacation. When he returns to his son’s house for a Halloween party, he discovers that his daughter-in-law turned his bedroom into a sewing room. Like Schmidt, the relationship between Kotch and his adult children is clearly strained. But unlike Schmidt, Kotch is able to repair the relationship by the end of the film.
Both Kotch and Schmidt are also facing the challenge of forming new relationships in their lives. Schmidt’s new associations are more superficial; he briefly interacts with a couple he meets on the road and his future son-in-law’s family. His interactions with the couple are short-lived after he makes a pass at the wife. And though his future in-laws appear to be eccentric, Schmidt does not make an attempt to form a true connection with them. Even his correspondence with Ndugo is one-sided, as he never receives a reply from him and learns that he can neither read nor write. Though at the end of the film, Ndugo sends Schmidt a picture that he drew of the two of them together holding hands and smiling.
Kotch is a more social person and throughout the film, attempts many conversations with different people. Though his efforts are often rejected, he never gives up and his altruistic nature leads him to form a solid connection with Erica. After feeling responsible for her losing her job as his grandson’s baby-sitter, he decides to take care of her while she is pregnant. The two develop a friendship and he provides her with guidance and support; he delivers her baby safely in a woman’s bathroom. The bond is confirmed when he finds a letter Erica wrote to her son shortly after he was born. She describes her love and gratitude towards Kotch and informs her son that they owe him a lot. Kotch appears touched when he reads her words that he would have made a great grandfather. Further evidence of Kotch’s ability to form more lasting friendships lies in the ending of the movie; he is invited to go out for a drink with a new friend.
- Death and loss of spouse
Though both Kotch and Schmidt are widowers, Kotch’s reflections show that his marriage was much happier. Schmidt expresses feelings of alienation from his wife in the beginning of the film and after she suddenly dies, he learns that she had an affair with one of their friends. In his letters to Ndguo, Schmidt is able to admit how much he misses his wife and tells Ndugu to always appreciate what he has. But after the funeral, Jeannie scolds him for buying a cheap casket and that he never spent money on his wife; she had to pay for the Winnebago with her own money.
Kotch does not deal with the loss of a partner as much detail as About Schmidt. While Schmidt is actively learning to live his life without his wife, Kotch has been widowed for a longer period of time. Many of the circumstances in Schmidt’s life, such as the reason why he undertook his journey, are influenced by his wife’s death. Kotch’s decisions are influenced by his wife’s memories; when he asks his son to not tell his wife about discovering Erica with her boyfriend, his actions are not the result of her death. He remembers an incident with his wife when he was younger and realizes that Erica’s “mistake” is not that different from his experience. When he talks of his late wife Vera, he becomes misty and it appears that he loved her very much. While preparing for the holidays, Kotch relives a series of happy memories with his wife.
Both films deal with these aspects of widowhood realistically. Recent widowers may relate more to Schmidt’s experience, even though he is also dealing with the fact that his marriage was neither honest nor happy. Kotch’s experience with widowhood is more reflective and he is better able to appreciate the happier memories with his wife and use them to better understand and relate to people.
Though Schmidt’s marriage may have been far from ideal, it also portrays relationships from a realistic perspective. Often when loved ones die, there is a need to idolize them. Though Schmidt admits that he took his wife for granted, he is able to see that his marriage had problems. He loved his wife, but had many complaints and is faced with the realization that he did not know her as well as he had previously thought. This honesty may give comfort to widowers who are experiencing not only the loss of their life partners, but also coming to terms with the imperfections in their relationships.
The stages in their widowhood could also be a factor which influences the outcomes of the movies. While Kotch has had time to grieve and move on with his life, Schmidt has not had sufficient time to fully process the events in his life. He becomes a widow almost immediately after retirement and then experiences many changes in rapid succession. If his life were reviewed one year later, Schmidt might be in a much better place emotionally.
Psychosocial aspects of aging
Many psychological changes occur with the aging process. Life circumstances and personality types play key roles in how each person deals with these changes; Kotch and About Schmidt depict these changes from an honest and realistic perspective. However there are many factors which influence Kotch ending happily, while About Schmidt ends with ambiguity and on a more melancholy note. Both films deal with psychosocial aspects of aging, but the events in Kotch’s life and his more optimistic nature allow him to better deal with the psychological challenges experienced by many senior citizens.
Both films explore the process of self-discovery of two men at difficult times in their lives. Kotch and Schmidt become engaged in self-reflection, but different circumstances and attitudes influence the outcome after their journeys are completed. Kotch appears to enjoy himself during his travels. He attempts to strike up conversations with people and even though his efforts are often rejected, he never gives up. Kotch takes comfort in the memories of his family and late wife. When he decides to end his travels, it is because he wants to help Erica and take care of her during her pregnancy. Upon the film’s ending, Kotch is left with a sense of purpose. He resolves his conflicts with his family, and is happy about the new life he made for himself. Kotch has found employment and has an active social life; he is shown going out for a drink with a new friend. His positive attitude seems to help him endure the loneliness that many senior citizens experience.
About Schmidt, ends with no resolution with his family and him feeling a sense that his life had no real meaning or worth. His journey begins while trying to make arrangements to stop his daughter from marrying her fiancé. However, she insists that he postpone his visit until the wedding, as initially planned. Jeannie makes it clear to her father that his presence is neither needed nor wanted. Schmidt’s journey is not so much a vacation, but is more of an emotional escape. Upon retirement and losing his wife, he appears to be lost and leaving his home seems to be more of a catharsis. During his venture, his encounters cause him to realize that he has made no solid connections in his life. He had become so fixated on achieving false ideals such as security that he became disconnected from things that really mattered. It is particularly devastating when he discovers that his childhood home has been replaced by a tire shop.
Many senior citizens have to deal with the fact that circumstances and their past decisions have affected their present situation. Even if they spent time investing in personal relationships, there is no guarantee that there will be any tangible connections in their current lives. Though Kotch ends happily, like Schmidt, he experiences difficult times. The difference between the two men should not be measured in how their endings occur, but in how they faced these struggles.
According to studies by Schwartz, Meisenhelder, Ma & Reed (2003) and Kahana, Bhatta, Lovegreen, Kahana & Midlarsky (2013), altruistic actions and helping people contribute to better mental and emotional stability. Kotch’s desire to help others comes from a genuine and unselfish origin. While their motives may both be genuine in helping people, Kotch makes the extra effort to ensure that help is received. Schmidt provides his daughter with financial assistance, but he never attempted to connect with her fiancé or his family. Schmidt’s wife had the responsibility of nurturing relationships between family and friends. Kotch did give Erica money initially, but he made the extra effort in providing her with a place to live and emotional support throughout her pregnancy.
The time periods in which the films take place play significant roles in how the ability of the characters to handle the challenges they face. Kotch occurs in the early 1970’s and About Schmidt takes place in 2002. The closeness of family may have been more emphasized in the 1970’s. When his son and daughter-in-law decided to put him in a retirement home, they researched the facility to ensure that it had a good reputation. Until his daughter-in-law began experiencing emotional problems, Kotch had been living with his family and enjoyed taking care of his grandson. At the end of the film, Kotch is asked to return home by his family. This may express the stronger role played by family in the 1970’s. Conversely, Schmidt’s daughter Jeannie lives far away from her family and communication occurred primarily with her mother through phone calls. After his wife dies, Schmidt asks his daughter to stay home and care for him but she refuses. If About Schmidt would have taken place in earlier decades, Jeannie may have decided to either move closer to home or invited her father to live in Denver to be closer to her.
Loneliness is another problem which many senior citizens experience. They may often feel isolated and this can lead to depression and apathy. Schmidt’s relationships throughout his life tended to be more superficial. He prioritized work and financial security and often neglected those in his life on a personal level. Even on his journey, his acquaintanceships are superficial. When he is invited to spend the evening with a couple, he uses the opportunity to make a pass at the wife when she tries to show him compassion. With his future in-laws, he is judgmental and refuses any attempts at connect. Even though his new family is portrayed to be eccentric, Schmidt is adamant about not accepting them; though he does deliver a kind speech at the wedding. However, this is less likely coming from his heart as opposed to keeping up appearances.
Like Schmidt, Kotch is also lonely. Kotch’s many attempts to engage people in conversation are rejected; however, this rejection is the result of the unfriendliness of others and is beyond his control. Yet, despite the poor reception he receives, he never stops reaching out to to others. Kotch’s loneliness is resolved when Erica reciprocates his friendship. When she leaves to start a life with her baby, one of the reasons Kotch decides to keep his house is to have it a0vailable on weekends for visiting. At the end of the film, he is shown that he has established a life for himself when he tells his son that he has a job and is shown to have made friends.
Because Kotch nurtured his relationships and connections throughout his life, he is more resilient to the challenges which often occur with aging. Schmidt did not develop meaningful relationships in his life and focused on superficial concerns; he is experiencing isolation and dissociation from his family and life in general.
Kotch’s openness and positive nature do not prevent him from having problems and regrets. Like many senior citizens, both Kotch and Schmidt have regrets and ponder on how they would have handled certain situations differently. Schmidt must contend with many regrets in his life. He admittedly feels bad about not appreciating his wife and that he was not the husband that she deserved. He may be regretting putting so much of his energy into his work after he realizes that his years of dedication did not amount to anything after finding his possession in the trash. Kotch appears to have less regrets in his life, but he expresses that he would have liked to have had a daughter as well as a son, but did not. However, he resolves this feeling of regret with his relationship with Erica.
Regrets are a natural part of life and audiences may identify with either character. Schmidt’s character allows audiences ample opportunity to identify with him. He spent his life pursuing the “American Dream” but when he was supposed to be able to finally enjoy it, nothing was as he expected. Audiences may find more inspiration with Kotch’s character. Though he continuously faces challenges, he has a more flexible nature and is more able to accept difficult circumstances.
Kotch’s attitude in general makes him appear younger than Schmidt. Kotch is 72 years old and Schmidt is recently retired. Though Schmidt is younger and would be expected to have more energy, he often appears tired and throws out his back out after sleeping on his future son-in-law’s waterbed. Kotch not only exhibits more energy and mobility, he is able to deliver Erica’s baby in the woman’s bathroom of a gas station.
About Schmidt and Kotch both depict challenges faced by many senior citizens. The challenges of changing of interpersonal relationships, loss of a partner, and certain psychosocial aspects can make growing older a difficult process. However, because both men are two very different people, the manner in which they handle their problems influences the outcomes of the films. Kotch’s optimistic and giving nature allow him to be open and more engaged in other people and the film ended happily. Schmidt was much more guarded and did not take the time to nurture his relationships and he experienced loneliness and dissociation. Both films realistically depict many problems face by senior citizens and by contrasting these two films, it is apparent how attitudes and personality can impact the direction of life events.
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