The pathos of Dagny Carlsson’s eyes drips from the screen when she discusses her early life and her late second husband, Harry; but when she laughs the room erupts with light.
Dagny was born the year the Titanic sank, in the city of Kristianstad in Sweden. The third of four children, a fifth sibling, a brother, died of diphtheria as a baby and Dagny blamed herself for “not being nice enough” to him, yet she was barely older than a baby herself at the time. Dagny’s mother was cold and often uncaring, and her dad, she says, like most men of that era, had little time for their kids. When he died suddenly, Dagny’s dreams of teaching were dashed as she was sent to work in a sewing factory. Her first husband was a drunk and jealous type and it took Dagny until the age of 37 to leave him—essentially when her life began, even though, she laments, by then she felt it too late to have kids. She met her soulmate, Harry, when he asked her dance in a dancehall, and they spent the following six decades together, Dagny tells us in the wonderful, award-winning documentary, Life Begins at 100.
Aged 103 at the time of filming (she’s now 105), Dagny reveals that when Harry died, “everything felt hopeless” and “I didn’t think I’d be far behind”. But we soon learn that there’s plenty of life left in dynamic Dagny who yearns “to dance once more”. She bought her first computer when in her nineties, which she describes as a “stepping stone” to the outside world. Now, many would describe it as a stepping stone to her, for at the age of 99, she became the oldest blogger in the world. What started out as a bit of fun, attracting a couple of hundred visitors to her site, has exploded, with more than 2,300,000 people now having checked out her work.
“Dagny started to blog every night when she was 99-years-old,” the filmmaker’s Asa Blanck tells Al Jazeera, where you can watch the documentary. “She posted racy, funny, thought-provoking stories as her readership grew day by day… She writes about buying her first pair of jeans at the age of 101… She also writes about her idol and role model, her grandmother, living in the 1800s. She was a woman who gave Dagny a lot of love and courage that has stayed with her throughout her life.”
We witness her invited on TV and radio shows, often bemused by all the fuss but nonetheless certainly thrilled about the ride. She browses online dating agencies and even teaches classes so that “younger old-timers know how to be friends with their computers” and to “give them courage to try new things”. She’s warm, she’s inspirational, she’s wise. “Don’t tell me things were better in the old days,” she insists at one point, “because they weren’t.” Dagny reveals how she’s always been plagued by shyness and there’s a bittersweet feeling that it took her until old age until she finally found out who she was, and what she could really achieve. The film is peppered with both humour and poignancy, “I have a few years left,” she says at one point, “it’s time to live it up,” and in another scene, we see her browse through old photographs, and take a glance at her reflection in a mirror. “I was never a beauty,” she muses, but you’ll come away feeling she’s one of the most beautiful souls you’ve ever got to know.
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces