The Up saga -a British documentary series that revisits the same people every seven years- is such a unique experiment, it’s unlikely will ever be repeated (the internet has rendered the experiment obsolete). Up is like a social networking page that gets updated one or two times per decade, but unlike Facebook, goes as far as 1964.
56 Up is not the flashiest episode of the saga, but that’s mostly the subjects’ fault. None of them went on having remarkable lives, but at least the personal drama of earlier episodes has ceased. If anything, the ongoing economic crisis has hit all of them and their success in life ends up shaping the size of the damage.
A common theme among all thirteen interviewees is regret, mostly about the roads not taken. While it shouldn’t be surprising, just the previous episode, 49 Up, was still packed with hopes for the future. This time around, the notion of doors closing hits most of them. Their reaction is also similar: More resignation than bitterness.
The most poignant character of the series continues to be Neil. Originally a bright and hopeful kid, at his lowest point Neil became a drifter with suicidal tendencies. In 56 Up, the unwitting MVP of the saga has found some stability by pursuing a career in politics. Regardless, Neil is alone and restless, and it’s hard to feel optimistic about his future.
Interestingly, a few of the subjects take issue with director Michael Apted’s approach. The idea that a few snippets and quotes every seven years can give you a round impression of a person seems ludicrous to them. Yet, having watched all the chapters, all the nuances supposedly missing matter little and their most evident traits are the ones that mold their lives. Three slightly older, perhaps wiser prairie dogs.
56-Up is now playing at the RPL Theatre until March 10th.