Seven Can Wait

The most startling aspect about 35 Up is the extent to which age is shown to diminish the body - especially how each line, shape, and contour of the face is either coarsened and distorted. (It suggests England as the last place on earth you go to find glamour.) It's there in Jackie, Lynn, and Susan, the trio of East-End girls - they're as frumpy and overweight as Roseanne Arnold. The temptation to perceive in their physical ungainliness a further sign of dread is mitigated by their remarkable dignity in the face of mediocrity. Two of their mothers have passed away since 28 Up, and Lynn herself is ill with a possibly life-threatening disease. Living out their lives, they intuitively understand and accept their lot - of course it's not the stuff of long-ago, childhood dreams. Here's a uniquely English, get-on-with-it perseverance that in some ways adds to their apparent solidity and humanity. It's a cautious sign of hope.

35 Up ends with Neil, whose presence is, if anything, more disturbing than before. Indeed it's hard to look at what's become of the cheeky boy who said at seven, "If I can't be an astronaut, I think I'll be a coach driver," and who at 21 looked toward politics. That year he saw himself reaching 28 with realized ambitions: "In a job from which I would be getting satisfaction. Married, probably, with children, with a good salary - enough to, as I said before, be able to live fairly comfortably."

None of it came to pass: By 28 Neil was homeless, a Social Security recipient bleakly walking the peaks and valleys of Scotland, wearing a drab, scarecrow suit and speaking to himself. (It's not clear whether or not he's schizophrenic.) But at 35 he's more settled and living in the Shetland Islands, pleased about acting in a 1990 pantomime, and answering difficult questions from the ever-insistent interlocutor, Apted, such as whether he worries about madness. There is a semblance of stability in Neil's existence now, but oh, the sadness of it - it's another wasted life witnessed in the clear light of day. The very idea of meeting Neil again seven years from now is as ineluctably terrifying as it is inevitable.

In 28 Up Neil says something that's as profoundly resonant as a valedictory pronouncement and speaks to and about this class of time-marching Britons, whose familiar identities remain distinct but also form part of a larger tragedy. That the words come from its most disenfranchised member is all the more affecting: "No formal education can prepare anybody for life," Neil reflects. "Only life can prepare you for what comes."

35 UP
Directed by Michael Apted.

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