Review: 49 Up

The film reminds us that the series exists not just as a reminder of our mortality.

49 Up
Photo: First Run Features

“Life comes once and it’s quite short,” says Neil, whose economic and romantic disillusionments would break the hearts of millions after this once chipper tyke emerged as a tragic figure in 21 Up. Neil is still prone to poetic ruminations about the nature of the world in this, the seventh film in Michael Apted’s Up Series, throughout which the director’s subjects continue to cope with the pressures of money, politics, sex, and everything in between. Apted has again returned to catalog how they’ve evolved in seven years, offering brief glimpses of these people’s lives as if he were hurriedly guiding audiences through cabins in a train speeding at once joyously and perilously between creation and death. Since 41 Up, Nick divorced and remarried, Lynn began work with mentally handicapped children, John took up the piano, and Tony tried to parlay his involvement in the series into acting work. The others have seen changes as well, big and small but none too earth-shattering, though given Lynn’s ongoing medical problems (the mysterious veins inside her brain are still present), there hangs over this new film the feeling that 56 Up may come around with at least one death to account for. The impetus for this series—a great humanist and social experiment more than 40 years in the making—was a Jesuit maxim, “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man,” but a more popular adage applies to the current state of affairs of these once little men and women: “The more things change, the more things stay the same.” Perhaps this is why so many of Apted’s subjects continue to resent their involvement in the series, for these films affect their subjects not unlike they do their audience, serving not only as reminders of our mortality but as instruments to measure how much, or how little, we’ve accomplished in our short lives or struggled against the notion that we are all born slaves to an indestructible birthright.

Score: 
 Cast: Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, John Brisby, Peter Davies, Suzanne Dewey, Charles Furneaux, Nicholas Hitchon, Neil Hughes, Lynn Johnson, Paul Kligerman, Susan Sullivan, Tony Walker  Director: Michael Apted  Distributor: First Run Features  Running Time: 134 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2005  Buy: Video

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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