1985 happened 30 years ago and so did I. Now I’m watching all the films from the year of my birth. Yes, all of them.
28 Up (dir. Michael Apted) 136 min
Release Date: October 6, 1985 (USA)
Cast: Neil Hughes, John Brisby, Nicholas Hichon, Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Basset, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, Peter Davies
Synopsis: A documentary series wherein the same group of people are interviewed every seven years to see how their lives have changed over time. This is the fourth entry, interviewing the subjects at 28-years-old.
Review: First things first: I didn’t realize I was born in a year when one of these came out, inadvertently landing me somewhere on the timeline of this series. I was seven by the time 35 Up came out and I’ll be 35 by the time 63 Up is released. It’s an odd coincidence that I wouldn’t have put together were I not writing this series, itself a product of my getting older. And it’s also undeniable to me how odd it is that I’m writing about 28 Up just two years removed from that age. It’s a weak coincidence for sure, but enough of one to resonate at least on some level.
Taken on its own, 28 Up is still a powerful entry into this series, if only for the remarkable finale which focuses on Neil Hughes’ journey from a silly, sweet Liverpool child to a nearly homeless, out-of-work intellectual living on the fringes of society, ruminating on God and his own sanity. When you see him hunched over, rocking back and forth during his interview, its impossible not to wonder if it’s from the cold or possible mental illness. It’s not just seeing him age 21 years in the blink of an eye, but seeing him go from a 21-year-old with very few prospects to this destitute state in such a short period of time. It’s something I’ve thought about personally a lot over the last few years: how easy it is to hang on to things from your past for just slightly too long. I drank and smoked a lot in my early twenties and it didn’t occur to me to stop because I still considered myself a kid on some level. There’s no way that behavior didn’t stunt me in some way or keep me from advancing my career, personal life, health, etc. Watching Neil, especially as an English major who thought his intellectualism would shelter him or at least secure him a certain level of comfort, I see how far things might have gone if I’d kept on that mindset.
I knew I’d wind up talking a lot about myself with this entry, but that’s the genius of this series. The wide cross section of humanity on display allows for many interpretations and reflections on the material and naturally age factors into each viewing as well. I first encountered this series close to a decade ago and while I’ve always found it to be a staggering piece of work, the amount of new things I’ve seen and felt during this rewatch leads me to believe that this may be THE documentary film series of all-time. There’s no sense of good or bad when it comes to these individual chapters anymore—though this is an interesting age for so many of the people in this film, especially as many of them begin to have children of their own—because the series morphs to fit the times. At 63, I suspect I’ll look back on this entry and see a completely different film all over again. With the Academy Awards just around the corner, you’re going to hear a lot of bullshit about how movies can change the world, but this is as true an example of that as anything you’re likely to see.
Better Off Dead or The Sure Thing: The sure thing.
Next Up: The Adventures of Mark Twain