The Up films began over half a century ago, with a simple premise taken from an old Jesuit saying, “Give me the child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.” What started as a look at 1960s British class structure from a young age in Paul Almond’s Seven Up! became an entirely new project once director Michael Apted took over with 7 Plus Seven. Apted turned what was supposed to be a one-off special into a now nine-part series, chronicling the lives of these same children every seven years, a series Roger Ebert once called one of the ten greatest films of all time.
In 63 Up, for the first time, Apted asks all the participants if the quote that started the series is true for them. Apted has said in interviews that this might be the final film in the series, and by asking this question, there’s certainly a feeling of conclusion in Apted’s long project. But with Apted nearing eighty, interviewees sick and nearing retirement, and the first death in the series, it’s easy to understand that Apted wants to bring this series to an end before it’s too late. With 63 Up, Apted might have ended this gargantuan project with the most revelatory, emotional, and powerful film in the series.
What started as a discussion of class naturally became a look at how people grow in small increments of time, while still potentially staying inherently the same. After fifty-six years of this project, 63 Up has become about reflection on one’s life as it comes closer to the end. Thankfully, Apted doesn’t expect every viewer of 63 Up to have watched all 856 minutes of the series that have come before, or even remember everything that happened in the lives of his fourteen participants, and in that, there is no better example that documentaries should be nominated for Academy Awards than 63 Up. Despite how much information has to be conveyed in each film to catch the viewer up, it’s an incredible accomplishment just how much information from all previous installments can be fit into this compact film. Because of this brilliant editing prowess, this is a surprisingly easy series to jump into at any point.
The further this series has gone, the smaller the changes in these people’s lives have become. For many of the participants, the change have been minimal since 56 Up. They’ve gotten creakier, lost more hair, and gained more grandchildren, but if anything, that lack of change has made 63 Up feel all the more important. At this point, these people have finally settled into who they truly are, and have had time to look back on their lives so far.
The most remarkable transformation in this series has always been that of Neil Hughes, who became homeless and struggling with mental illness from a young age, then slowly found himself as he became more invested in local politics and religion. But just as fascinating are the gradual changes in these people’s lives. One such example was John Brisby, who almost became the film’s snobby, de facto rich kid. Especially in his youth, John’s desire for money and power almost made him seem like a villain waiting to happen. But as the years went by and John’s participation in the series varied, his true self started to come out. After confronting Apted about how the film presented him, John started to open up a bit more, discussing the death of his father at a young age, the struggle that caused for his mother, and how he’s dedicated the later half of his life to aid in his mother’s home country of Bulgaria. While John has often laughed off the concept of the series, by 63 Up, he is more likely to laugh at who he once was, a child with ambition that the adult version of himself could never quite realize.
In this ninth film, Apted has created a film that encapsulates the entire human experience, a look at our own mortality, and crafts a narrative that will almost certainly have every viewer questioning how far they’ve come in their own lives and where they’d like to go. If film is a way to reflect one’s life on the screen, while making the audience ponder the biggest questions life has to offer, maybe no one has done that better than Apted has done with this series. 63 Up feels like an epic story nearing its end, and such contemplation of these people seeing how far they’ve come, while stating that they core of who they are probably was set at seven, is a phenomenal coda to one of the greatest film series ever.