In search of lost time

49 Up

In 1964, documentarian Michael Apted interviewed 14 British schoolchildren for a 37-minute BBC short called Seven Up! Apted and his crew queried the seven-year-olds on a variety of subjects, with the intent of re-interviewing them every seven years to see how their lives and viewpoints changed with age.

Apted’s original intent was to catch a glimpse of England’s future, and to help prove the old Jesuit maxim that a child at seven is essentially a rough draft for the man he’ll become. As the experiment has progressed with a new update every seven years, the Up series can be seen as both the precursor to reality television and a genuinely metaphysical cinematic experience.

The latest installment is 49 Up, and although it’s the seventh entry in the series, latecomers to Apted’s landmark experiment shouldn’t feel unwelcome. A huge part of the film’s charm comes in watching as the participants age seven years at a time—through marriages, divorces and bad hairstyles—via montage recaps of the previous films.

All of the subjects are 49 now, so expanding paunches and balding pates are the order of the day. Longtime fans of the series who’ve taken a personal stake in the subjects’ lives will be happy to learn that most of them have become grandparents, and generally they seem to have found a measure of peace and satisfaction noticeably lacking from earlier episodes.

That feeling of contentment may not extend to participating in Apted’s experiment much longer—two of the 14 original children already have dropped out, and one more states her intention to quit after 49 Up. Several more of the subjects express anguish about the intrusion that the film has made into their personal lives, and resent their forced childhood participation in the project.