In time, we age. We age, and we lose our innocence in time. It’s inevitable. However, M. Night Shyamalan’s Old thematically explores the notion, “Will we continue to feel like kids if we age a lifetime in a single day?” An array of questions spreads out about aging and our relationship to time. Is the loss of innocence related to the hardships we deal with in life? Do we react differently at different ages? Though many of these curiosities are left for viewers’ interpretations, what drama puts forth is an engaging science fiction thriller that will keep you hooked.
Old, produced, written, and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, is based on the French-Swiss graphic novel Sandcastle. The film follows a tourist group trapped on a mystifying beach that accelerates their cell growth and depletes their youth.
‘Old’ Plot Summary
An American couple, Prisca (Vicky Krieps) and Guy Cappa (Gael Garcia Bernal) visit a tropical resort, Anamika, with their kids, Maddox and Trent. Prisca curates exhibits for museums while Guy works as an actuary for an insurance company. Recently, the couple has been facing issues in their relationship and has decided to end it for good. The visit to the undisclosed tropical island was their last vacation together before telling their kids about their separation.
At the resort, Trent befriends the resort manager’s son, Idlib. The kids start sharing messages encoded with cryptic symbols. In the meantime, Guy explores the resort’s leaflet and speculates that American Pharmaceutical Giant Warren, and Warren, must be affiliated with the resort. At night, after their eventful day, Prisca and Guy get into an argument that hints about Prisca’s medical condition that may be a cause of their separation.
The following day, M. Night Shyamalan, playing a mysterious driver (symbolically, Psychopomps), transports the Cappa family to the strange beach on the nature preserve side of the island. Another American family consisting of Cardiothoracic surgeon Charles (Rufus Sewell), his trophy wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee), their daughter Kara, and Charles’ mother, Agnes, share the ride to the unknown beach.
Maddox finds a popular rapper, Mid-sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre), sitting in a secluded corner at the beach. As the families explore and enjoy the beach, Trent finds a floating dead body in the water. Mid-sized Sedan reveals that she is, his girlfriend who went swimming into the ocean in the morning, and he has been waiting for her comeback. However, Sedan suffers from constant nosebleeds due to hemophilia, and Charles doubts whether he killed the dead girl.
In the meantime, Charles’ mother, Agnes, dies from a heart stroke. The new arrivals on the beach, a nurse, named Jarin Carmichael (Ken Leung) and his wife, psychologist Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird), try to run out of the beach to call for help. However, as soon as Jarin enters the exit canyon, he suffers a blackout. The vacationers find themselves trapped with no outside help. However, the upcoming turn of events gets scarier and bloodier, killing more people as time passes.
What was happening at the beach?
After two deaths in a row, Prisca discovered that their six-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter had aged 11 and 16, respectively. Even Charles’ daughter Kara aged from 6 to 11. At first, Prisca speculated that their uncontrollable aging might be a reaction to something they ate on the island.
However, Sedan’s girlfriend decomposed in less than 7 hours (usually, it takes seven years for the flesh to rot off). The vacationers concluded that there was something eerie going on with time on the beach.
On the beach, half an hour was equivalent to approximately one year. Due to the rapid time change, their cells were aging rapidly. It became the reason for Agnes’ death, who probably didn’t die of shock but old age. In paranoia, Charles attacked Sedan with a knife, but his wound healed immediately due to the rapid cell process.
The hair and nails of the vacationers remained unaffected because the cells in hair and nails were dead. Hence, they weren’t reacting the same way. They finally concluded that if 60 minutes is two years on the beach, they would probably age 50 years in a day—almost a lifetime.
Why did the tourists fail to escape the beach?
The Asian nurse Jarin theorized that the rocks surrounding the beach could be a reason for their rapid cell aging. A lost diary found by Maddox confirmed the theory. It explained that the rocks on the beach submerged beneath the ocean for millions of years deposited with certain minerals causing the cells to age rapidly.
Hence, if the minerals from the rocks speeded up the cell process, then trying to leave the island was like swimming to the surface too fast after being deep in the ocean bed. Their bodies failed to readapt such sudden changes when they tried to leave the island and thus suffered a blackout.
An aged Jarin tried to swim out of the island but probably drowned due to a blackout as his body failed to reacclimate to the change in environment. Later, Jarin’s dead body was found by teenage Maddox (Thomasin McKenzie).
What was the common link between the trapped tourists?
Every tourist that was inhumanly trapped on the bizarre island suffered from some chronic illness. For example, Prisca had an abdominal tumor for which she wanted to end her marriage so that her family didn’t see her suffer. However, due to a rapid cell process on the island, her tumor grew into the size of a Cantaloupe. Charles successfully operated it out to save Prisca’s life.
Charles had a hereditary mental disorder (schizophrenia), and his condition worsened as he aged. In paranoia, he killed Sedan, suffering from hemophilia. Charles’ mother, Agnes, died of old age, while his wife, Chrystal, was diagnosed with hypocalcemia. Due to a lack of calcium, Chrystal’s bones crippled in the end.
Jarin’s wife, Patricia, had a history of epilepsy. He suffered an attack when she arrived at the resort. However, due to heightened awareness caused by rapid cell processes, she didn’t face another attack for 17 years (as per the beach time). But the death of Jarin shakes her sanity and causes a deadly epilepsy attack that takes Patricia’s life.
The three children on the beach, Kara, Trent, and Maddox, aged gracefully. However, Trent and Kara became intimately involved, falling prey to their hormonal changes, resulting in Kara’s pregnancy. But the newborn failed to survive the rapidly changing time and therefore died in childbirth. Later, Kara tried to escape the island by climbing the rocks but suffered a blackout and hit the ground. Kara and her mother, Chrystal, died miserably.
A schizophrenic Charles attacked Guy at night, but Prisca stabbed Charles with a rusted knife. The accelerated cell rate caused immediate Tetanus infection, taking away Charles’s life. The only surviving members until now were the Capa family, but even their bodies were rapidly aging.
How did Trent and Maddox survive the Mystic Rocks?
After a dreadful night, Prisca and Guy withered peacefully in their sleep. Trent and Maddox woke up as mid-age adults in the morning and had only 13 hours more to live.
The siblings revisited their childhood memories and created a sandcastle (homage to the original novel, Sandcastle) on the beach in their last moment. Trent remembered the letter Idlib left for him and, out of curiosity, decoded it for fun. However, in his letter, Idlib wrote, “My uncle doesn’t like coral.” Earlier, Maddox found a diary explaining the rapid aging process and hypothesized that if they could make a metal tube, they might be able to stop the effect on their cells. After decoding Idlib’s message, he conceptualized that maybe corals would protect them from harmful minerals. Thus, they gave it a try and swam towards the coral reef.
Why did Warren and Warren trap the tourists?
From the moment the families arrived at the beach, a resort employee played by M. Night Shyamalan frequently monitored them from a distance. When Trent and Maddox swam towards the coral reef and didn’t come to the surface, the employee concluded that the siblings drowned. He quickly informed his seniors and left.
On the outside, it was explained that pharmaceutical giants, Warren and Warren, lured the ailing patients to the resort through attractive vacation offers. The pharmaceutical company established a giant lab at the resort where they conducted experiments on these tourists and used them as lab rats.
These trials were funded to find new medicines and treatments for patients throughout the globe. And on their 73rd trial of the Cappa and other families, the lead scientist, Sydney, discovered that Patricia, who suffered from debilitating seizures her whole life, didn’t have a stroke for eight hours on the beach, i.e., 16 and a half years as per the rushed timeline. The miracle happened due to the medicinal mixture, cocktails served by Madrid, to the tourists as they arrived at the resort.
The eerie beach aided in Warren and Warren’s research expedition, as they could test medicines on innocent people in one day instead of a lifetime. The rapid aging process helped them invent a new drug to cure millions of people who have epilepsy, however, at the cost of hundreds of lives who perished on the beach.
‘Old’ Ending Explained
Trent and Maddox survived the beach and came back to the surface, finding their way through the coral reef. They returned to the resort and handed over the diary with the missing people’s list to the police officer vacationing there. The officer confirmed the names from his department, and police arrived soon to make proper arrests. The department served subpoenas to Warren and Warren’s headquarters and escorted Trent and Maddox to the airport.
While a rushed ending clearly explained the intention of trapping the tourists, the film didn’t give any definite explanation for the rapid cell process caused by the rocks. A similar mystery was explored in Netflix’s Icelandic series, Katla, where an ancient meteor helped nearby humans to manifest their thoughts into humanoid changelings. Probably, in M. Night Shyamalan’s Old, too, the hidden meteor from outer space might have something to do with the unsolved mystery.
Old is a 2021 science fiction thriller film produced, written, and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. It is based on the French-Swiss graphic novel Sandcastle.