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49 UpReview - 49 Up
DVD
by Michael Apted (Director)
First Run Features, 2006
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Jan 16th 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 3)

Watching Michael Apted's "Up" series is an intensely personal experience for those who have watched them for a few decades, or for those who have watched the recently released collection of all of them from 7 Up to 42 Up. Being only a few years younger than the participants, it's easy for me to identify with them: I can't remember which was the first of the series I saw, but it may have been 21 Up or 28 Up. There are 12 people who talk about their lives every seven years, and we often meet their families and see how their careers or work life is going. The original plan of the TV program was to show the future workers and the bosses in their youth, so viewers could see how the British class structure was determined by social circumstances. With each new film, we see both the truth and the limitations of this view, as the subjects' lives both fulfill their own statements when they were 7 years old, and also go beyond their expectations.

For each of the 12 interviewees, we see flashbacks of their previous interviews, and we develop a sense of the continuity of their lives, with all their hopes, disappointments, struggles, and achievements. They have lived not only all over Britain, but in many places around the world. They have married and divorced, remarried, had children and now grandchildren. Most of them are doing fairy well in their finances, some owning their own homes, with steady jobs, although a few express worries about the future. 49 Up is striking for how comfortable the 12 are with their own lives, and have accepted their situations.

Some of them have health problems such as carpel tunnel syndrome and arthritis, and others have mental health problems. Some of them have gone into couples counseling, or have had individual therapy. They don't say much about these experiences, but they say they were useful. It is Neil who has had the most obvious emotional troubles. At 7, he was the most charming and outgoing of the children. He grew up with his family just outside Liverpool, and he wanted to go to university. But he dropped out of Aberdeen University after his first term, and was living in a squat. By the age of 28 he was living in northern Scotland, homeless. At 35, he was living in a council estate in the Shetland Islands in the most northern part of the UK. At 42 he was living in London, working on a local council. In the most recent film, he has moved to Cumbria in the northwest of England, and has become involved in local politics and council work. He seems far more at ease than he was 14 years ago, and more cheerful than 7 years ago. When he was 35, Apted asked him whether he was concerned about being mad, and he replied that other people were concerned about it, but he has said little more on camera about his mental health. He does say though that now living in the countryside and seeing the beauty of nature every day has been very helpful for him in keeping him grounded.

In a half hour interview with Michael Apted on this DVD, film critic Robert Ebert is a little gushing in his praise for the Up series, but it is easy to see why. Ebert has recently been facing serious health problems, and 49 Up is unusual in its power to make one reflect on life's meaning, one's place in the world, one's accomplishments, and the nature of happiness. It bears watching several times, and each time one learns a little more. Highly recommended.

 

 

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2007 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

 

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


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