COCOON (1985) is a science fiction film directed by Ron Howard about a group of elderly people who are rejuvenated by extraterrestrials.
12/26/09 | Film

Cocoon

by Amber Sparks

The children’s choir has come to sing carols to the old people, just like they do every year. When the children arrive at the senior center they see the old people seated in neat rows of metal folding chairs and beige polyester slacks.

The old people smile at them, all pink sticky gums and few teeth. A hasty conference is arranged among the children, and a quick consensus is reached: the old people smell nothing like roses. More like musty towels and mold, like stacks of newspapers and magazines buried under dust and slipcovers. And their heads move too much when they talk. It’s funny-creepy, the children all agree.

When the children finish singing “O Holy Night,” another old person enters the hall and heads for an empty chair in the back. The children watch him, mesmerized by his measured, glacial pace. The skin drapes off his wrists and elbows, and flops about. Old people, whispers Anna to her brother, are actually half-robot. Only a robot could walk that slow. If they were people, they would fall right over.

And, says Jeff Stephens, it takes forever for old people to just, like, walk into a restaurant, and then like three hundred years to eat their food, and then like four decades to quit talking about old people stuff, like popping pills and who’s dead or dying, and then it takes like sixteen centuries just to get them back in the car.

The children start the next song, the one where Chris Otelo has a solo, and the old people start to sway a little in their metal chairs. They’re swaying in unison, right, left, right. The children grow uneasy; the old people have never been this active before. One of the old ladies wipes some drool from the side of her mouth. Her nails are sharp and long and dagger-pink.

The song ends and Anna’s brother whispers, No one listens to the old people. At home, we just pretend to. And they try to give you things, like old batteries and pictures of people you don’t even know.

Chris Otelo nods. We don’t listen to our old people either, he whispers back. Ours drink half a can of Sprite, and that’s it. Nothing else.

Ewww, says Anna’s brother, wiping wet off his cheek. He’s forgotten that Chris Otelo is a spit-whisperer.

The choir director glares at Anna’s brother, and raises his hands to cue the next song. Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the children sing. The old people stand up and push their metal chairs back, hiking elastic waistbands up under their armpits and tying terry cloth bibs around their saggy necks.

The children’s voices grow quieter, worried-sounding. Some children forget the words to the song. The choir director is scowling at his choir; he doesn’t notice the old people shuffling forward like zombies behind him. Now they have utensils, knives in their right hands and forks in their left hands. Their hair is white and flat in the back and you can see their pink scalps underneath. They are walking like monsters with wide, deliberate steps. The children all stop, except Corey Anthony, who is nearsighted and won’t wear glasses in public. The cattle are lowing, he sings, and then trails off, realizing no one else is singing. Looking around he says, What’s going on?

The choir director turns around, finally, but it is too late; one of the old people stabs him in the neck with a fork and red sprays out from somewhere near his vocal cords. The children scream and try to run, but it’s just like a movie: the old people are slow but many, and they surround the children, coming close enough for the choir to see the brown scabs on their faces and their tiny, murderous eyes.

The children are savory and tender, better even than the Grand Slam breakfast at Denny’s. The old people pick bits of children between their remaining teeth and smile big, camera-ready smiles. They are as full and friendly as babies. Happy New Year, they say to each other.