In the ongoing documentary series/social -experiment known as Up, award-winning -director Michael Apted checks in with a gaggle of British subjects about whom documentary vignettes have been made every seven years since they were 7. Previous installments have covered the subjects at ages 14, 28, 35, 42, 49 and 56, and Apted has been at the helm since the 1960s when the series originally began.
It's a fascinating bit of content wherein Apted tackles one subject at a time, comparing control questions, spur-of-the-moment ones and ultimately uncovering something about how the best laid plans of mice and men do often something-something.
Interwoven footage from previous iterations show us whether the subjects did or didn't follow their plans throughout their lives and, at its core, 63 Up can be both heartbreaking and comforting. From the one-time jockey hopeful who wound up driving a cab and then dabbling in acting to the single mother whose longtime engagement seems to work wonders outside of whatever society dictates it must; we catch up with a lawyer reflecting on how he should have worked less, a scientist grappling with throat cancer and his impending death and a late bloomer musician struggling to come to terms with the recent death of his mother and his own mortality. Death, actually, plays a central and looming figure in 63 Up, as do politics (Brexit, of course), family and a sort of skewed yet universal lens through which we all see ourselves.
Perhaps the most intriguing element is the funny way in which humans' need to plan and fret almost always seems to be for naught. Even those who wound up doing exactly what they had hoped wind up feeling wistful and melancholy once in their 60s, and while this can be taken as an infuriating example of how the things we do don't matter, the lesson, as it were, seems to be that whatever will be will be. And really, that's only if one needs to glean a lesson from the film.
The reality is, some of these people did better or worse than their 7-year-old selves would have thought, and that is delightfully human and reassuring. The happiest of them seem to be the ones who went with the flow—almost like nonstop work and owning things don't automatically equate to happiness. Embrace art, don't be so hard on yourselves, do your best and lean on family and loved ones. Everything else is simply of little consequence.
+A truly incredible project; fun to watch
-A tad sterile; a tad long
Directed by Apted
Center for Contemporary Arts, NR, 138 min.