"You're rich, but you're dying. Do you feel immortal?"
That question, posed by one of the characters in the psychological thriller "Self/less" to ailing billionaire Damian Hale, highlights recent scientific advances to extend human life beyond its normal boundaries. In Silicon Valley and the halls of academia, vast amounts of time and money are being showered upon efforts to make bodies withstand the ravages of age and disease.
"Self/less" stars Ben Kingsley as Hale, a wealthy magnate who gets more than he bargained for when he undergoes an expensive treatment called "shedding" that lets him swap his dying body for a younger one. The movie shows the downside of immortality, after a series of unforeseen circumstances soon overwhelm his new lease on life.
The movie arrives at a time when technology and medicine are aggressively probing the boundaries of human mortality. Aside from the obvious issue of whether the quest for immortality is worth its attendant complications, the movie begs another nettlesome question: Is the pursuit of longevity really for the rich?
The concept of living forever exposes a divide between the haves and have-nots. In "Self/less," Damian Hale pays a whopping $250 million to "shed" his body, a price tag hardly accessible to the working class.
Society's fascination with tapping the fountain of youth extends back centuries to folklore where "queens bathe in blood, thinking it kept you younger," Tarsem Singh, "Self/less'" director, told CNBC in a recent interview. Vestiges of those efforts to hold back the years have made a comeback, with blood treatments a part of the nearly $300 billion market for anti-aging cosmetics.
Technology is set to yield more advances—and no doubt more public and private contributions will fund such initiatives. However, average citizens are unlikely to be afforded immediate access to the treatments.
Given all the complexities of science and unintended consequences—some of which are detailed in "Self/less"—Singh suggested the immortality project may not be worthwhile.
"Who wants to live like that?" the director asked CNBC. "Science never works that cleanly, you never know what was done in a lab." Efforts to turn back the biological clock have "been around forever, but we are not made to be immortal," he said.