There are few times an appreciator of film can confidently say a particular story was meant to be told through the camera lens. 49 Up is such a story. The latest installment of the Up documentary series, 49 Up, continues its filming of 14 diverse British citizens each interviewed every seven years of their lives. Beginning with Seven Up, the distinguished series has become an enormous success both in the United Kingdom and United States.
Director Michael Apted, who initially screened Seven Up in 1964, once again directs this newest update on the same participants, who are all now 49 years of age.
The film begins with Tony, once a Cockney child with hopes of becoming a jockey, now living as an independent taxi driver with his wife Deb. Through glimpses of the previous series, it becomes apparent that the two had been having marital problems but were able to resolve them. One of the most supportive participants in the series, Tony has no qualms about divulging even the most painful of details about his life. He now continues to work in taxi driving and enjoys spending time with his new grandchildren.
Another participant, Jackie, married at 21, had two children and was later divorced at 35. She moved to Scotland to be with another man with whom she also had two kids, but that relationship also ended bitterly. Now, suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and living off disability benefits, Jackie admits to having quite the temper as shown in various clips incorporated from the series. Jackie unfortunately seems to be the one participant who appears most unhappy with her lot in life, sullenly telling the director on camera, "I don't think you really expected me to turn out the way I did."
One of the more troubling yet inspiring stories comes from Neil, who was a bright child in Seven Up but who later became homeless at age 28. His life hadn't improved much by the time he was 35. As he was living off social security and dealing with mental illness, he stated in his interview at the time that he wanted to become a politician later in life. At 42, Neil achieved his dream when he moved to London and became a full-time district councilor in the Eden District of the western United Kingdom.
Peering into each of the participants' lives, we see the full range of human emotions. Whether it is the regret Simon shows when reminiscing about his mother's death from cancer or Suzy's bold assertion of feeling "finally comfortable in my own skin," there is an unmistakable human quality to this film.
Filmgoers who haven't seen any of the previous films in the series shouldn't fret about what they've missed in the past, as this one keeps viewers up to speed on the pasts of each person. The series is not great solely in its execution but rather in the subject matter. We see in each film the progressing, truthful evolution of a person. Toward the end of this wonderful documentary, you can't help but realize that you are no different than they are, except that the film for your own life is merely in your head.
49 UP (not rated), directed by Michael Apted, opens Friday at Flicks