Experiences make great stories; how much better if they are captured on camera?
In an ingenious and creative move, documentary filmmaker Michael Upted decided to interview a group of 7-year-olds about their views on life and their hopes for the future. The project began in 1964, and aired as a television special. But like a kind of obligation, every seven years, Upted would return to those same thirteen individuals to see what their lives had become. The 49-year result is nothing short of fascinating.
Growing up is something every one of us has experienced, but it happens over so much time that we often do not realize how amazing the process is. 56 Up is successful in capturing the beauty of life, no matter how many tragic turns it may take. In every life, there are changes. People get married, divorced, have kids, and generate new friendships while abandoning old ones. Each of the children in the film grows in wisdom and experience as they age, and even though their stories are fairly general, they are all so very intriguing.
There’s something surreal about seeing someone blossom and come into their own five minutes after your meet their five-year-old self. It is also incredible to see their children and grandchildren. Upted was able to capture just how much future generations can remind one of past generations, and this technique makes the audience feel closer to each subject, as if they’ve known him or her for a long time. The filmmaker manages to skip back and forth through different periods of each subject’s life without making the viewer confused. 56 Up is not completely chronological, and that keeps it from being boring.
All of the men and women in 56 Up come from fairly different backgrounds, despite the fact that they all grew up in boarding school (it is not clear whether or not they were all in the same one). Their personalities shine through and pretty much stay the same, no matter how old they get. There are always remnants of each subject’s 7-year-old self, and it’s interesting to see that innocent twinkle in their eye – the sole remainder of the innocent child they once were.
There is really no “theme” in this movie. The thirteen subjects talk about everything from money to politics to kids to gardening, but it by no means feels unorganized; it just feels very real. Dreams have a way of winding down into realistic and attainable hopes, but it’s just as satisfying to see those hopes achieved, no matter how far they may have dwindled down.
56 Up reminds viewers that there is no particular formula for a successful life, and no particular way to go about living in order to achieve certain results. Education does not guarantee one a successful future, and a lack of education by no means guarantees failure. The film begs the question: which is better? Achieving your dreams or enjoying the very different life maps out for you?
56 Up is now playing at the IFC Center in New York and opens up in Los Angeles, January 18th.