The Villages Florida, sometimes referred to as ‘Disney World for Retirees,’ is the largest retirement community in America— boasting a population of over 100,000 residents. The community markets itself as ‘God’s waiting room’ and is designed as a utopia of sorts, a place where residents 55 and over can retire comfortably— while still having a little bit of fun. The community has 89 swimming pools, 50 golf courses, and over 2,000 clubs that residents can take part in— including belly dancing and water ballet. Indeed, the residents of this retirement community don’t go there to die— they go there to live, and to spend their retirement living out the vicarious fantasies of their dreams.
At first glance, The Villages really does seem like Disney World. Located only a short drive away from the real thing, The Villages was modeled with the same faux veneer. Although the community only opened in the 1980s, it was modeled in the traditional 1950s aesthetic— complete with several town squares. Residents of this town are more likely to travel by golf cart than by car, and they even have several golf cart fueling stations and stores scattered sporadically around the community. Indeed, if someone is looking to spend their retirement golfing, swimming, and being active— The Villages seems like the place to go. Or is it?
Nothing really is perfect, even a place that markets itself as heaven. Director Lance Oppenheim was interested in peeling back The Villages’ facade to see if the residents really are as happy as they claim to be. The end result of this was his 2021 documentary, entitled: Some Kind of Heaven which explored life in the World’s Largest Retirement Community. Oppenheim followed five different people living in The Villages as they sought out happiness in a place that claims to be overflowing with it. Juxtaposed with shots of elderly cheerleading squads and Jimmy Buffett parties, Oppenheim is able to express the loneliness and isolation that one feels— even in the midst of a crowd.
Some Kind of Heaven is a fascinating portrait of what really matters in life, set against a backdrop of what doesn’t. The residents of The Villages seem content living out their final days in a place that isn’t quite real, and have found comfort in the fantasies that the community provides them with. Even the town’s history is made up, and each building comes complete with its own mythic, and entirely fake backstory. Seeing as The Villages attracts residents from all over the country, everyone is able to be who they want to be, and fashion their life story any way that they choose. The end result of this is a Truman-show-esq environment where everyone and everything just seems ever so slightly off.
So is The Villages really the happiest place to retire? Well that really depends on what you want out of life. If you want to spend your sixties pretending that you’re in your twenties, complete with all of the superficiality but lacking the idealism of youth, then this might be the place for you. Otherwise, maybe not. After all, Disney World is a fun place to escape to for an afternoon. But Disney World has a closing time— forcing guests to make their way back into the dreary monotony of reality. But what happens when there are no closing times? Escapism can only work for so long before the things that you’ve escaped from begin seeping into your Disney World. And what exactly can you do then?