Despite who and what we are individually, we all have great lessons to learn about the ultimate shared experience we call ‘life.’ We live it differently, choosing to follow our separate paths, often ones that are dictated by beliefs, personal choices, and family upbringing. Still, there are some ‘truths’ we all consider universal – how we deal with challenges, changes, turbulence, and disappointment – and there’s wisdom tightly packaged into any presentation of those individual moments. For instance, I can learn a great deal about watching another person’s reflections on how to best cope with the failure to achieve a dream or some grand quest.
There’s far more each of us ever shares in common that’ll ever truly push us apart, and perhaps that’s the greatest justice to Michael Apted’s ongoing examination of several people’s personal lives in his UP series of films. His latest – 56 UP – is now available on home video, and it’s definitely worth a review.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
There are no stars here, though there may be a few lesser celebrities. What director Michael Apted has done with this group of British subjects – he started videotaping interviews with these participants at age 7, and then he’s returned to speak with them further every seven years – is, no doubt, an amazing commitment on all of their parts. In these discussions, they discuss everything – life, dreams, love, deaths, careers, hopes, aspirations, daily life, etc. – that might run the gamut of interest. Apted puts his subjects to some meaty analysis of their experiences, trying to get to the heart of the human experience and what it means to live a life truly fulfilled.
Much could be made about whether or not it’s a truly enlightening experience. How much change does a person endure in seven years? How much wisdom might a man or a woman collect in such time? How much change might come into a life? Still, it’s an amazing concept, especially when viewers are treated to the stories that helped shape these individuals every seven years, and it’s one I’d encourage many folks – especially younger people – to seek out. (This isn’t to say us ‘old folks’ don’t have lessons to learn; rather, it’s only to underscore that quite a bit of the incidental learning presented here is the stuff each of us experiences in our separate pursuits.)
Apted and his subjects mostly appear comfortable with one another, but there are some instances wherein the requisite bitterness of disappointment and the ‘forced’ celebrity status comes into focus. As these productions aired on television locally, one man opted out of participating for several years due to the fact that he felt largely maligned by the presentation of what he said during an era of controversial politics. However, with the passage of time and the collection of wisdom about phrasing things more safely, he’s back, and it’s these instances that I found truly inspiring.
There’s a lot in here. At 138 minutes, I’d argue that it’s possibly too long for a single viewing. I’d rather 56 UP be trimmed to a lean and mean 120 minutes, but Apted might not be doing justice to all of his regulars if he did. Still, there’s quite a bit that felt repetitive; when it feels fresh and inviting, it’s a delight. And I’ve no doubt this project says quite a bit about basic human living, though I wouldn’t dare try to pin it down to a single bullet point or even a few – there’s far too much packed in here, and I’d end up doing a disservice to other finer points.
56 UP is produced by ITV Studios. DVD distribution is being handled through First Run Features. As for the technical specifications, this is a documentary, and it’s constructed with the best audio and video footage available (there’s some graininess necessarily with some of the older footage, but it’s hardly distracting).
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. It’s a grand, bold experiment indeed – taking time out once every seven years to check in on the continuing lives of men and women who’ve volunteered since age 7 to participate in such a study – one that visually captures the secrets of our most precious shared experience: life itself. 56 UP is amazingly prescient at presenting perhaps the oldest truth – life is never quite what we expect – but, if anything, it’s possibly a bit overlong on those sentiments in order to captivate modern audiences who aren’t all that drawn to highly personal stories any longer (except for the elites and academics amongst us). The 138-minutes should’ve been trimmed down to 120, and I think it would’ve been a far more effective presentation.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at First Run Features provided me with an advance DVD screener of 56 UP by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.