German film student Eugen Mehrer had no idea that a mock Adidas commercial he made about an aging runner would elicit such a powerful response from millions of people around the world. But here we are.
The poignant ad, titled “Break Free,” shows an old man wilting away in a retirement home and having flashbacks to his glory days as a runner. We see his beaten up Adidas sneakers sitting in a corner and then suddenly, witness his feeble body run exuberantly down the corridor of the nursing home, bursting past other elderly residents and towards the exit door.
Though the caregivers physically bar him from exiting the building, we see the old man try repeatedly to break free, using all his might. The anguish on his face hauntingly depicts the heartbreak of aging, and the feeling of being trapped in your own body — a body that was once so full of strength and vigor and promise, yet now feels weak and feeble and past its prime.
After numerous failed attempts to run outside, a nurse gets fed up with the old man and tosses his shoes in a locker, in a callous attempt to thwart any more running expeditions. The camera then cuts to the man resigned and sitting on his bed at night — totally and utterly defeated.
It was at this point in the video that I could no longer hold back tears, and I suspect it was the same for many viewers. But then the man’s friends come into view, one of whom has the old man’s shoes in his hands — and the realization in the man’s eyes as he looks up is absolutely mesmerizing.
As the sun slowly comes up, the corridor is full of senior citizens cheering the old man on while he takes wobbly strides down the long hallway toward the forbidden exit door once again. But suddenly, the crowd of senior citizens lining the hallway closes in together and block the caregivers from getting through.
With that, the old runner bounds through the exit door and into the unknown, just as the words “break free” appear on screen.
While Mehrer, a student at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg, says he contacted the Adidas communications department prior to promoting his video, he says he has yet to receive a response from the company. The mock-commercial, however, has since gone incredibly viral, with over 2 million views on YouTube to date, and Mehrer is suddenly getting bombarded with countless requests for interviews and film production companies that want to talk.
Speaking to Babble about the sudden fame of the ad, Mehrer shares the two things that inspired him to create an athletic ad spotlighting the often neglected subject of getting older:
“Before my film academy, I was studying journalism, so we basically did interviews at a nursing home,” says Meher. “It had an impact. It made me sad in a way because they [caregivers/employees] were doing their job, but it was difficult for the elderly. Secondly, I had a distant relative who passed away and he was so young at heart. He loved to watch basketball games and when you talked to him, it was like talking to a young friend.”
The 26-year-old explains that he finds it inspiring to talk to the elderly — especially his grandmother — because they have so much wisdom to impart. And if you look past the age gap, the conversations can be incredibly rewarding.
It’s a true rarity to come across a commercial that evokes such heartbreak and beauty all at once, with such effortless grace. But Meher’s mock ad eloquently captures just that — while reminding us that we are ultimately the authors of our own story; and that as long as we are on this earth, we are never too old to feel alive.