In 56 Up, ordinary life becomes poetic. A fascinating concept that began in 1964 when filmmaker Michael Apted documented a group of kids from various socio-economic groups in London, the series turned into a longterm project that follows each character in seven year intervals, through school to work to marriage to divorces and children.
And yet unlike most reality television of today, 56 Up isn’t a voyeuristic look at whose life is the most interesting, scandal ridden, messy, or glamorous. All of their lives fall roughly within the bounds of normalcy, especially as the characters get older and settle down and have children. None of these people are pulling stunts to get publicity or becoming parodies of themselves.
If the movie is about anything, I guess it is about the modern aging process and the beauty of living. As we see the characters through from their childhood ambitions to their teenage insecurities and their young adult restlessness to settling into marriages, homes, and families–some planned, some unplanned–we see how aging forces them to grapple with unmet ambitions and changes their priorities, and ultimately brings them peace of mind. Somehow, as the characters’ lives settle down, become less ambitious and erratic and more boring, they also become more content it seems with living.
The movie is somewhat of an inadvertent paean to the ordinary, to what we take for granted. We are tempted to think of our lives as unremarkable when they are anything but. We live each day feeling as if we are executing a routine which has been proscribed for us: wake up, go to work, see friends sometimes, go home, sleep. But how often do we take stock of it all, and marvel at the fact that we created this life we’re living, that we have carried on lasting relationships with friends, family, spouses or significant others who we generally take for granted. There is something momentous that occurs through the very fact of simply living life.
Article: “56 Up” and Michael Apted : The New Yorker