35 Up Reviews
Strangely, this one is where they are "my age." Oh, I was in ninth grade when it debuted, but in this installment, they were a year younger than I am now. This means that I no longer look at them and think how things were for me "when I was their age." From here on out, I will instead be thinking about what I will be like when I am their age. This is the point anyone coming to this series well after it was started reaches, I think. I mean, yeah, they're always going to be younger than my mom. For her, it will always be "when I was their age." But the nature of the medium means that more of us will reach this moment somewhere along the series as we watch it. And for now, of course, we also reach the point where we're caught up and are starting to wait for the next seven years to go by so that we can see where the participants are now. I would imagine that, when I start doing that, I will also be checking in with the changes in my own life over the last seven years.
Another seven years, another glimpse into the lives of our fourteen participants. Or, in this installment, twelve--Charles has pretty much permanently dropped out, Peter suffered difficulties after criticizing Margaret Thatcher in the last installment and chose not to return, and Symon was going through a messy divorce at the time and chose not to participate in this installment. But the others are back, and their lives have continued for good or ill. By now, most of them are parents. Some are married; some are divorced. Neil has remained single, and he is also the one without a steady life. At this point in his life, Bruce has also traveled, and he is single and teaching in Bangladesh. In a way, none of the others have led lives that are all that unusual, even if you take the film's starting point and assume that their class will determine their lives. Or if you don't, really. Most of their lives aren't all that extraordinary under any context except the one in which they get filmed every seven years.
It isn't even all that surprising that one of them is having mental health issues. It would be more surprising if none of them did. It isn't surprising that he doesn't want to take medication, either. A few years later, it would become surprising if none of them were medicated--though the medicated one wouldn't necessarily be Neil, who needs it most. He seems surprised, I think, that he used to be happy and isn't now. He seems to have been a cheerful enough child, and that bugs him, because it should be consistent. But of course it isn't necessarily. Most mental illnesses don't appear in childhood. In fact, a lot of people in the mental health care field are still surprised when symptoms of, say, bipolar disorder appear in children, because everyone knows symptoms don't appear until adolescence. Neil is taking the opposite tack, the belief that mental illness is always there, and that isn't valid, either.
He seems surprised, too, that people are interested in him. Leaving aside that self-esteem issues are not infrequent in those with certain mental illnesses (and I promise you that I don't have enough data to diagnose even at a guess), I think that's because all of the participants think they're ordinary. Of course, if they were extraordinary, there wouldn't have been much point in choosing them. None of these children are nobility; their parents aren't even in the House of Commons. None of their parents are famous at all. In fact, the parents are only just beginning to be part of things for purposes of the series, because they are starting to die. (Bruce's father comes up in the first installment, but few if any of the other parents do, even Bruce's mother.) They were chosen because of their class, but there was a class that wasn't included.
I understand fully both why the various people would choose not to be in the documentary series anymore and why they would. I'd probably be proud to be part of it, no matter what I actually did. It's a sociological examination, if nothing else. Flawed, of course; they get recognized in the streets, some of them, and they certainly know they're being observed. How could they not? Still, there is both what the original premise claimed and what eventually happened. John, who missed the last installment, returned in this one because he knew that it would give attention to things which mattered to him. Charles, I think, probably resents the invasion of his privacy; he has sued (unsuccessfully) to get his image removed from [i]49 Up[/i], which I'll be getting to soon enough. And, yeah, if I were in the middle of a divorce at the time of an installment, I'd skip out on it, too.