A LIFE OUTSIDE
A Life Outside is like a home movie done well. It’s a documentary about the surfer’s life off the New Jersey shore from the l950’s to now. Many of the players, who are now older men, are interviewed about what it was like for them when they were first bitten by the bug, and then chronicles their lives through the years. They have a passion for surfing—pretty much as a lifestyle—that continues to the present time. Many seemed to have postponed family life, and somewhat reluctantly admit that once they married and had children, they needed to change their priorities, at least temporarily. But they always got back to it, and are still surfing to their hearts’ content. They have developed a brotherhood that sustains their identities as surfers.
The film opens with scenes of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. After tracing their journeys from the beginning to now, they demonstrate a greater appreciation for what they had for so many years. They mention, first of all, how attitudes toward surfing have changed. Whereas it used to be a subculture that others looked upon with suspicion, the Gidget movies gave surfing a greater appeal, and by the 1970’s, it reached a peak; interestingly, being associated with the hippie movement—long hair, flip-flops, rock ‘n roll, sex, and dope. Surfers like the idea of freedom, freedom from rules, restrictions, fabrication, and illusion—that which is man-made.
There are many scenes of the men surfing, but these do not have the thrill that other surfing movies I’ve seen have. Most of the action consists of the men around a table talking about old times and how much surfing means to them, and towards the end, pictures are shown of their families
Because the film focuses on a tiny community and old men reminiscing, it begins to lose interest very soon after the start. The fine cinematography and soulful music help, but it doesn’t really pull the viewer in until the very end, when we get a glimpse of what the film is striving to be about: the preservation of the planet. One surfer observes that “nature is more angry than I’ve seen it in my life.” After showing the colorful, inviting beach where the surfers have lived for years, the film zooms in again on the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. One of the men’s houses filled with wood furniture he has made has been destroyed. Henry David Thoreau is quoted: “What’s the use of a fine house if you don’t have a tolerable planet to put it on?” The point is then made about the uncertainty of the future, and the need for us to do a better job in protecting the environment.
Grade: C By: Donna R. Copeland