49 Up

“Give me a child at seven and I will show you the man!” booms the narrator’s voice from the original installment of this British series originally made for Granada television. It was 1964 when 14 British schoolchildren, from kids in a children’s home to upper-class twits in a private school were all profiled and interviewed at the tender age of 7. Since then, director Michael Apted has returned to these kids every 7 years, showing them as gangly teens, surly young adults, newlyweds, thirty-somethings, and now as a bunch of 49-year-olds smack in the middle of, well, middle-age. The “Up” series is really the original reality show.
Our Rating

Genre(s): Documentary, Biography

Director: Paul Almond. Michael Apted

Actors: Bruce Balden, Jackie Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, John Brisby, Peter Davies, Susan Davis, Charles Furneaux

Year: 2005

MPAA Rating: NR

Country: UK

I’ve seen previous installments of this series, and it is absolutely fascinating. It is an astonishing social experiment, a sort of microcosm of the human condition, all caught on film. Though the kids chosen aren’t exactly diverse (they are all white, except for one mixed-race kid, who, unsurprisingly for 1960s London, is one of the boys living in the children’s home), the class distinction between the kids makes up for it. You can’t help but notice that some of the kids are already destined by society the paths that they will take in their lifetimes. I can only wonder if it is really much different now. The kids who are poor working class are pretty much still blue collar; the upper class twits became judges and barristers.

Of course, if you’ve seen any of the previous films, you will be most curious about what has happened to Neil. In 28 Up, Neil was found wandering the Scottish Highlands, homeless, and perhaps mentally ill. You couldn’t help but wonder if he would be around for the next installment (for 49 Up, 12 of the original 14 kids are still participating). But Neil is indeed here, and it is a nice surprise how his life has changed, that’s all I’ll say.

Many of the interviewees are reluctant, and if it weren’t for Michael Apted calling them up every 7 years to splash their lives across the big screen, they would most likely be very private people. One of them men calls the 7-year visits a “poison pill” that he just has to deal with. Another woman angrily confronts Apted about how she was portrayed in the last film, accusing him of editing her life and her words harshly for maximum entertainment value. She points out that he can choose how he wants to portray her, no matter what she says in the interview, and she has an excellent point. You can’t help but wonder how your own life (no matter how old you are… 21, 35, 49…) would be portrayed on the big screen if an outsider only got 7-year snippets.

At 49, many of the “kids” have been divorced and remarried. Several of them are grandparents. Many of them are thinking ahead to retirement, having worked hard their whole lives. Some of them still feel unsure about what their futures will hold. One question was misheard by an interviewee—instead of “What do you see yourself doing in 7 years?” came across as “What WILL you be doing in 7 years?” It was the difference of the fantasy of your future vs. the reality of your life. Because of moments like this, 49 Up pretty much made me feel like bursting into tears several times. It is a rewarding cinematic experience whose scope forces bigger questions.


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