Michael Apted's celebrated documentary series, which has examined the effects of social, economic and cultural forces upon a group of English schoolchildren, chosen from varying economic backgrounds, as they age at seven-year intervals, has reached a curiously dispiriting plateau in 35 UP. While previous installments of the series reflected on the physical...read more
Michael Apted's celebrated documentary series, which has examined the effects of social, economic and cultural forces upon a group of English schoolchildren, chosen from varying economic backgrounds, as they age at seven-year intervals, has reached a curiously dispiriting plateau in 35 UP.
While previous installments of the series reflected on the physical and mental growth of the subjects--at seven, fourteen, twenty-one and twenty-eight--and how they managed to find a niche in the British social structure, now, at the age of thirty-five, the subjects are full fledged adults and
have become reflective, bitter, and paunchy. For example, as Tony's life flashes onscreen, he is seen as a knockabout lower-class scrapper who becomes, briefly, a jockey, a pub owner, a movie extra and now, at thirty-five, a cab driver, stuck in his job and arguing with his wife and kids over
dinner. Similarly, of the lower-class triumvirate of Lynn, Jackie, and Sue, the latter two are now single parents who are forced into dead-end jobs in order to provide for their children. Even the upper-class subjects find themselves in lives of dull routine. The well-off Suzy, raising her
children amidst the splendor of the English countryside, muses defensively that she can't change what she was born into.
The only dimly hopeful one of the bunch is Neil, the most unsettled member of the group, who, when asked if he feels that his life has been a failure, replies "Well, my life isn't over yet." This stoic response reflects the underlying structure of Apted's fascinating project. No matter how many
ruts the subjects find themselves in, there is no closure--either in the film or in their lives. The hints of future possibilities make 35 UP sad, bleak, hopeless yet, at the same moment, life-affirming, yearningly moving and refreshingly hopeful.
Beyond the class barriers that rule their lives, the other disturbing undercurrent of 35 UP is the subjects' ongoing celebrity based on their exposure in the films. By 35 UP, Apted's camera has become not merely a mirror of reality but reality itself. Jackie, Lynn and Sue reveal to Apted that they
only reflect on their dead-end lives when Apted arrives with his camera to ask them. At another point in the film, Tony says, "I'm as good as other people, especially in this film." Although several of the original subjects declined to appear in 35 UP, citing invasion of privacy (Nick's wife; the
upper-class Charles; and Symon, the only black participant, who decided to expose his family life no longer to public scrutiny), the others live their lives in a heightened super-reality, a life that is documented in distinct seven-year intervals with a visit from Apted and his film crew. By 35
UP, the subjects refer to their own previous film incarnations and react to the filmmaking process as a primary aspect of their existence.
35 UP is a God-like glimpse of the uninterrupted trajectory of lives that is vastly disturbing, cooly scientific and intensely emotional. As it unfolds, Apted reveals lives at the crossroads of capitulation or enervation. Despite the bleak outlook, Apted's film gives hope for a better life at
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