Dagny Carlsson: Life Begins at 100

For dynamic Swedish centenarian Dagny Carlsson, life hasn’t always been easy.

Growing up, she dreamed of being a teacher but was sent to work in a factory. She was mistreated first by her mother and later by her first husband, who was a jealous alcoholic. Dagny found love with her second husband who died when she was in her 90s. 

By the time she turned 100 years old, Dagny had been to more funerals than she could even count. When it seemed like her life was almost over she bought a computer, taught herself how to use it and started a blog.

She soon had more than half a million readers and became a celebrity in Sweden. Now, Dagny is an inspiration who mingles with the stars, participates in political debates on TV and is always making new friends.

Drag the slider across the infographic to see the difference between 2015 and 2050


By Asa Blanck

One phone call was enough. I had been given a tip about a centenarian who was keeping a blog, and one rainy day in February I gave her a ring. A brusque old lady – all gallows humour – picked up the phone. She was not at all amused by the idea of becoming the subject of a documentary.

But coffee was something she did like – and this is how I came to meet Dagny Carlsson and laugh so hard that tears were rolling down my cheeks. She changed her mind about the documentary, and we started filming on the very next day.

What I fell for so whole-heartedly was Dagny’s utter unwillingness to ever ingratiate herself with me or care, even in the slightest bit, about what other people thought about her at that moment at the very end of her life.

The worlds ageing population [Al Jazeera]

She had managed to rise above her strenuous, grey existence and she had decided that she would finally do what she had wanted to do all her life: write.

Dagny started to blog every night when she was 99 years old. She posted racy, funny, thought-provoking stories as her readership grew day by day. From a couple of hundred visitors the first couple of months to a couple of hundreds of thousands by the next. By now, 2,300,000 people have visited her blog.

She writes about buying her first pair of jeans at the age of 101. Jeans were not accepted as clothing for women when she was young, but she always longed for a pair. So now, she finally got one. 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.  

Dagny Carlsson, world’s oldest blogger, rides a subway on her way to her younger sister’s 90th birthday party [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]

Dagny has always loved to dance. She met her second husband, Harry, on the dance floor and they continued to dance throughout their marriage. When I met her, she hadn’t been dancing for ten years, but often talked about how much she missed it.

As a filmmaker, how much are you allowed to affect the process of your characters? In my opinion, you can try – cautiously of course – to get certain things going and then see if they pick up speed on their own. I told Dagny about dating websites, and she ran with it.

While I was fascinated with Dagny’s go-ahead spirit, it was also what started to create difficulties in the shooting process: I had not gotten my sights on her vulnerability in the present. Strength and gallows humour are not enough to make a gripping movie with many layers.

Putting a film aside for a while during editing often makes me realise what is lacking. I had a chance to put the rough cut of Life Begins at 100 aside for a month. Back in the editing room, I focused on the more difficult aspects of her life: the loneliness and vulnerability which she felt in the present, not just the past.

What left an indelible mark on the entire shooting process was my fear that she was going to pass away. Every time she didn’t pick up the phone, I thought “God, now it’s over”. But then the evening came, a new blog post would come up, and I could take a breath, even if it were just for a while.

My fear was unfounded: she is still alive. In May we celebrated her 105th birthday and are now shooting a sequel to the film – I can’t keep away from filming this woman.

There is one more thing she is yearning for: a chance to travel abroad once more. But she thinks no one would ever dare to be her travel companion since everyone is afraid she is going to keel over and fall dead on the spot.

But now she has ordered a new passport, so the possibility exists. And the shooting team is ready.

the world's ageing population infographic

Source: Al Jazeera