42 Up (1998)
★★★★ / ★★★★
A bit of hair loss, more noticeable extended waistlines, and less elastic facial skin have begun to show, but these classic attributes of aging do not make the subjects any less interesting. On the contrary, these have made them more accessible because it appears that with age comes wisdom and experience despite one’s initial class standing.
A common theme this time around is legacy. Just about everyone has married (or remarried) and produced children. They talk about their hopes for their children, acknowledge some potential limitations their offsprings might face in the future, and what they feel they can still accomplish. Each of them sounds and comes across very middle-aged in that they radiate a comfortable calm. Even though none of their lives are perfect, there is an unspoken awareness that they will manage and move on.
I found it intriguing because at this point in my life, I do not yet have such a perspective. When a situation does not meet my sometimes high expectations, I make a point to do something about it. Here, it appears as though the subjects have loosened their reigns on expectations. Sure, they still have goals they hope to fulfill until they are no longer able to, but there is a general feeling that if they are not met, maybe it just isn’t meant to be.
For example, in the previous films Paul had acknowledged his lack of confidence, a trait that he believes to have stemmed from his parents’ divorce when he was very young. When asked about it this time, instead of saying that he will actively work on it, he simply says it annoys him still and does not know how to deal with it. But the underlying message is not that he has given up. Instead, it comes off as a realization that maybe that is just the way he is, that the attribute has become a part of him—that maybe it is all right to just leave it be.
I have always found Lynn to be depressing. I am not quite sure whether it is due to the way she delivers the answers to the interviewee’s questions or the fact that she rarely smiles while facing the camera (she seems a lot friendlier when she isn’t sitting on the couch), but I found her to be more engaging here. She seems less uptight to a degree and the way she elaborates upon her answers is welcoming rather than repellant. I liked the answer she provides when asked about what she thinks has been lost over time from when she was a child until being forty-two.
As usual, perhaps the most interesting segment is Tony’s. Though some of other subjects acknowledge how hard it is to stay married, Tony and his spouse are unafraid to provide specifics—even if it is painful. It turns out that Debbie had caught him having an affair. When the director asks why she forgave him, the instantaneous silence between the question and the answer feels like a long time. This documentary series is at its best when very difficult questions are asked and feelings are about to get hurt.
In “35 Up,” when director Michael Apted asked Neil to predict where he would be in seven years, he said that he would probably be homeless and wandering the streets of London. Neil did move to London but he is not homeless. He looks healthier. He interacts with a lot more people than he did during his time in the Shetland Islands. We are even shown a special friend that he contacted upon his arrival in the city.
I think, in some small way, this series has helped to save Neil’s life. I’m just happy he hadn’t been found dead in a ditch in the middle of nowhere.
Apted: What’s the most enjoyable thing in life for you at the moment?
Neil: I think it’s looking to the future.