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Michael Apted's "Up" series has visited the same group of people every seven years, since they were seven years old. In this documentary, they are 56 years old. The people featured have not changed much since 49 Up. Nevertheless, it is still fascinating and moving to see them now in the context of their unfolding lives. We see how they have talked about what is important to them over the years. Apted asks them questions about children, grandchildren, love, marriage, divorce, work, and health. Not surprisingly, for most of them, it is family that is most important; especially children and grandchildren. While the original series was very focused on the importance of class as a factor in later success. But by this stage in their lives, their happiness seems largely unrelated to how much money they had when they were children. On the other hand, it is clear that their social class when they were children was a strong predictor of how wealthy they would be; we see people who grew up in poverty still living in difficult circumstances, while people who were from well-off families had many more opportunities and live in large houses. That seems to make little difference to their quality of life though. All of the people featured have had rich lives; some have done a lot of traveling; others are more involved in their communities; and some are focused on their families. One of the distinctive features of this latest documentary in the series is that Apted is in a position to ask them whether they feel like their lives have been successful and whether they have regrets. Very few of them are interested in assessing their lives in terms of success or failure, and they prefer to get on with their lives.
Often families are filmed when on holiday or on a day out where there are lots of activities. That keeps the documentary visually interesting. The images and voice-overs shift back and forth in time showing both how people have changed and how locations changed, and even on repeated watching, there is a great deal to take in. It is a long film at 138 minutes, but it draws the viewer in. It might be that people who are not very familiar with UK culture will find some of the references obscure, but it should appeal to an international viewership, because most of the themes are universal.
One of the recurring questions is why those who appear in this documentary series is why they do it (and some who were in earlier films have not continued). Many of them reflect on their own motives, and many complain about both the experience of being interviewed and scrutinized every seven years. They don't much like the public fame that it has brought them. They often don't feel that they have been represented in a fair or complete way. But they are at least given the opportunity to voice their complaints. It may be that they are aware of the importance of the project, and they may also have some personal connection with the director, Michael Apted, who has been involved from the start. It is a great project, and this latest film in the series will be of interest both to people who have watched previous ones and those who have never seen any.
© 2013 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York
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