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August 9, 2014

56 Up

by Franz Patrick


56 Up (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Almost half a century has passed since the original fourteen British-born children appeared on film which was initially conceived as a project to show the distinctions among socioeconomic classes in 1960s England and how one’s standing in the hierarchy might shape a person’s future. Since nothing like it has ever been done on film, it cannot be denied that the “Up” series is a great achievement and a must-see for anyone who loves the movies. Needless to say, I am already looking forward to the next one, if there will be any, though I find it slightly daunting that I will be thirty by then.

A sense of closure is on the horizon in Michael Apted’s “56 Up.” Sue’s life appears to be relatively stable now that her children are no longer at home. It is strange that in her thirties, we get the impression that she has missed out of a lot by being a single mother. For instance, she had let go of her dreams of performing such as singing and acting in order to focus on raising her children and making ends meet. Now in her mid-fifties, with a stable career and some extra time on her hands, her journey feels almost complete in that she has joined a group where she can sing and act. Maybe I haven’t thought that far ahead in my own life but what is there to do once one has reached stability?

I criticized “49 Up” for being organized in an odd or unexpected fashion. I stand by what I had pointed out, but the changes made in this installment make more sense. The first involves separating Sue, Lynn, and Jackie’s segments. With the exception of “49 Up” and “56 Up,” the three were always presented together. They were often seen sitting on the same couch and been allowed to reciprocate one another’s viewpoints since all three came from a similar background. Here, each woman’s story is bookmarked by another thread as if to suggest that they can no longer be considered a group because even though they shared many similarities early on, their paths have diverged in very different and at times unexpected directions.

The second surprise comes in the form of Nick and Suzy being in the same room. I found this to be very amusing because in “7 Plus Seven,” these two began to pique my interest: Nick for his statement that he was interested in physics and chemistry despite his father and grandfather being farmers, Suzy for coming off such a spoiled brat in her answers and overall demeanor. Both of their transformations uplifted me and it is so nice to see them interact with one another and make intelligent comments about the value of the series.

Discussions of the subjects’ children and grandchildren are especially prevalent. The more they are talked about, signs of the participants’ old age become all the more apparent. Bruce remains to speak in such a calm manner but his movements are a lot slower now, perhaps also due to weight gain, even though he still plays cricket. Suzy’s face has become less round and bonier but there seems to be more wisdom in her eyes. As for Jackie, health has become an issue especially since she suffers from rheumatoid arthritis.

I always enjoy Tony’s segment because his attitude toward life is tackling it head-on. He has so much energy and is such a personality that one cannot help but smile every time he speaks. The bit about him visiting familiar places and what he used to do there as a kid made me think of that seven-year-old who I thought would get involved with the police at some point during his adolescence and be put away. I’m glad he didn’t. Instead, he made something of his life. The metaphor that I think applies perfectly to his journey is what the dog racetrack, his former place of employment, had been turned into. To see him, now fifty-six, sitting in that new building is very fitting and I was moved.

The next installment, if there is going to be one, is “63 Up.” It will be the first time in which I have to wait years to find out what happens to the remaining subjects. In theory, I will be thirty by the time that one comes out. The thought scares me a little bit—being that “old.” But then I look back on the stories I have had the pleasure to watch unfold.

Suddenly, I feel reassured. Clearly, thirty is just the beginning.

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