2006, NR, 135 min. Directed by Michael Apted.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 6, 2006
This world-famous British series is one of the great achievements of the cinema, one that reveals the potential of an observant camera plus the passage of time to capture reality. Begun 42 years ago in 1964, the UK-based World in Action team gathered a diverse group of 7-year-olds from all over England and asked them questions about their lives and thoughts regarding the future. The idea, which grew from the Jesuit saying "Give me a child until he is 7, and I will give you the man" was for Seven Up! to provide Britons with a sense of what life would be like in the year 2000 when these children were adults and reaching the height of their individual powers and societal contributions. Michael Apted, a crew member on the first film who has gone on to direct such Hollywood features as Coal Miner's Daughter and The World Is Not Enough, has continued the series, revisiting the same individuals every seven years, and consequently creating a living portrait of … growth, atrophy, life, humanity. The last couple of series' entries, which caught the subjects at ages 28 and 35, found them mostly to be their first grownup successes and disappointments and gave the films a more downbeat quality as they recounted a succession of marital difficulties, parental passings, and the like. Now approaching the half-century mark, the participants at 49 seem more reflective, as they address new topics such as grandchildren, second homes, and career changes. They are also questioned about their feelings about being ongoing participants in this project, and the answers may be surprising in this age of ubiquitous celebrity. Viewing 49 Up does not require familiarity with the whole series in order to be appreciated. Snippets of footage of each subject throughout the years are included as the film seems to flash forward and back through each life. Consistencies, changes, the permutations of the flesh – all are fodder for the camera's gaze. Life happens in front of your eyes: It's sometimes fascinating, boring, revelatory, tedious, and compelling, but the movie camera almost seems custom-made to capture its essence. The films draw no definitive conclusions about the sum of their parts, although the sociological attention to class distinctions in the early years has given way to more psychological focus on individual development. What the series means in the long run is anybody's guess; I just know I sleep better at night knowing it's out there. AFS@Dobie