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August 8, 2014

49 Up

by Franz Patrick


49 Up (2005)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Jackie has always been a firecracker. It is always a highlight when she is lit up by one of the director’s questions—often one that she feels is inappropriate because it is too personal like her level of experience when it comes to men in “21 Up.” When she claims that her youngest son is most like her and Michael Apted asks if that worries her, she goes after the filmmaker and it is a most welcome change of pace. Because even though Jackie is older now, deep down, she is and always have been a spitfire.

In a way, the “Up” series is not just about the words coming from the mouths of the subjects. These are things they have control over. To get the complete picture, a viewer should be sensitive to the text, context, and subtext. Sometimes we learn a whole lot more about the subject through how he or she answers or responds to a question.

John is not the most relatable of the bunch. I must admit, however, that when he is absent, there is a rather significant void which is felt in “28 Up” and “42 Up.” He comes from a privileged family and so there is a pompous air about him. Still, even though I may not agree with many of what he has to say, I could not help but to listen because he is very well-spoken. Many may consider him to be the “villain” especially in the second and third installments, but I do not. He is a subject and hence he should be able to express his opinion freely.

Because six films have come before it, it is most interesting when the director asks what one’s attitudes are when it comes to participating every seven years. To my surprise, more than a handful of the responses lean toward negative. I suppose it is easy for a person to wish to be visited every seven years, to be recorded and asked about a range of topics, and to be shown one’s story to the world. But I imagine it must be hard for the participants because Apted is not afraid to ask personal questions, including very sad memories, and the answers broadcasted to the world. And we all know, partly because we are guilty of it, how quickly and intensely people judge.

The organization is a little odd this time around. Previously, Jackie, Lynn, and Sue’s segments follow one another. Here, Lynn’s is separated from the other two for no good reason. It disrupts the flow as well as what we come to expect. Instead of focusing on the material, it gives us a few minutes to wonder whether it is one of those times when a participant refuses to appear in the installment.

Lynn does make an appearance and, I must say, I have learned to appreciate her story much more. On my review of “42 Up,” I confessed by thinking of her as “depressing.” While I stand by that claim, I respect the work she does in the library, especially working with children who happen to have disabilities. Though the government thinks that just about anybody can do her job, I know for a fact that such a line of thinking is wrong. To be in her life of work requires a lot of patience, empathy, and energy. I enjoyed that the director spends more time with her because it becomes clear how much she loves and values her job. In some ways, it has defined her over the years.

Suzy’s segment is perhaps one that made the biggest impression on me. She has made her children to be her life but now that they are away due to school, a job or starting an independent life, there is a sadness to her just beneath the surface. I hope that the next time she is in front of the camera, she has found another passion—one that is for herself. I still could not believe that this woman is the same little girl who claimed that when she had babies, she would prefer to have a nanny to raise them.

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