I first heard about the 7 Up series from my blogging friend Carla (whom you may remember from another of my 101 tasks: to try a pair of Vibram’s shoes). Carla mentioned the films in one of her blog posts, and many of her readers commented about how awesome the series was. I had never heard of the films before, so I had no idea what they were about – but with so many people exhorting its praises, I was intrigued. I asked Carla for a quick summary of the series, and she briefly explained the premise: Fourteen seven-year-old British children from widely ranging backgrounds are interviewed about a variety of subjects. The kids are then reinterviewed every seven years to see how their lives (and attitudes) have changed (if at all).
I have a special place in my heart for social psychology (indeed, I have an undergraduate degree in the subject), and I suspected I would enjoy watching a longitudinal study of people from various backgrounds unfold right before my eyes. However, I had a hunch that actually sitting through over 14 hours of video would be challenging; I can barely make it through a 90-minute movie in the theater. I simply don’t do well with sitting for long periods of time, staring at a screen. So I suspected the only way I would actually make the effort (and time) to view the entire 7 Up series would be to put it on my 101 list – and that is how #98 came into being.
This holiday season I was fortunate to be able to take a long break from work for Christmas and New Year’s; I figured this period of time would likely be my best shot to get through the entire 7 Up series. My sweetie is also home with me during this time, and he expressed an interest in viewing the series as well – so we made a point to watch the movies together. Over the course of 6 days, he and I plowed through all 7 videos in the Up series – and while my eyes are now red and my tush is now flat, I can say that I have seen every minute of the 7 Up documentary series. (Well, to be completely accurate, I can make this claim for the next 6 years – at which point the newest video will likely be released.)
All in all, I found the series quite interesting. Though it was difficult to watch so much film in so few days, I think I got more out of the experience consuming it this way than I would have had I tuned in to a single video once every 7 years. As I watched each film I took brief notes (as I knew that later developments in the series would likely ‘taint’ the ideas I had about the earlier films), so if you would like to follow along with me through a more detailed journey of the series, you are invited to continue reading this post. However, note that in my comments, I might make statements that could be considered “spoilers” – so if you have plans to watch the series, and want to do so with an unbiased perspective, you may want to end reading this post at this point. Just a head’s up.
Alrighty – you in for a stroll through 56 years of life in a few paragraphs? Cool; here we go!
- This film is in black-and-white – I honestly didn’t expect that! Of course it makes sense (the first film was shot in 1964), but still, I just didn’t have this in my mind…
- Seeing the children in formal clothing (skirts and muffs, fedoras and ties) was startling. And seeing the kids eat school lunch meals using china plates and metal silverware was also totally unexpected.
- Hearing the ‘proper’ language some of the children used was also strange. (Example: “My heart’s desire is to see my daddy.”)
- The interviewer made a comment, “The vast majority of children will leave school at 15 [years old] and start work.” Wow, how times have changed…
- The video ended with very dramatic, nearly ominous music. Very 1950s sci-fi feel. It made me chuckle.
7 PLUS SEVEN:
- This film was in color. Very grainy color, but color nonetheless.
- It’s interesting to see how much the 14-year-old kids looked just like their 7-year-old selves.
- It’s also interesting to see how consistent their personalities have remained over their childhood and adolescence. Many of their interests have changed over the past 7 years (not surprising), but their personalities, their demeanor, their affect (even their mannerisms) remain nearly fully unchanged.
- This film had the same media quality as 7 Plus Seven.
- It’s weird: 75% of the 21-year-olds no longer look like their younger 7- and 14-year-old selves; but 90% of the 14-year-olds looked exactly like their 7-year-old selves. Strange.
- Many of the participants were quite defensive during the interviews, and reacted rather strongly to calmly-asked questions. It felt like several (most?) of them resented having their lives “intruded” into – yet they consented to continue with the projects even as adults. If they didn’t like the intrusion, why didn’t they refuse to participate once they turned 18?
- The décor, clothes, and hair in the film were all VERY 1970s. A tragic decade for fashion and aesthetics.
- This movie was quite a bit longer than the two previous films; I prefer an hour-long experience versus a two-hour one…
- The film quality is slightly better in this set of interviews.
- It’s funny to see how significantly the fashion changed form the late 1970s to the eary 1980s.
- Now spouses and children are entering the picture (literally); it’s quite interesting.
- I’m genuinely surprised at how much one of the participants matured from age 21 to age 28. Surprised, and pleased.
- It’s very interesting to see how culture is changing in the 1980s. (Feminism, race, socio-economic class – it’s all in flux.)
- One of the men in the series looks a LOT like one of my uncles; watching him was a little spooky.
- All of the participants look older than 28 years. Is this an effect of the semi-grainy video? The lifestyle of growing up in the 1970s? (I.e., more smoking, less use of sunscreen, etc.) A function of living in England?
- Two men chose to not participate in this round of interviews. One of them is a documentary film maker – so I found his lack of willingness to answer a few questions for this documentary project rather rude.
- It’s interesting to see how some lives have stayed exactly “on track, how some have only improved, and how others have only deteriorated (some quickly, some slowly). Interestingly, social/economic class is not a valid predictor of ‘success’ in life (at least, not so far…).
- The film quality is still grainy – was film in the early 1990s still that poor? Or did video technology in England lag behind the US?
- The parents of the now-35-year-old “kids” are starting to die; these adult children are facing the realities of Life more and more with each passing film…
- Some of the 35-year-olds look very haggard – much older than a mere 35 years. (And I’m in my late 30s, so I can say this.) 🙂
- The kid who became a documentarian continued to decline participating in this iteration of the series.
- At least two other kids were absent from this video – with zero explanation offered for their absence. What?! I need (okay, I really want) to know what happened to them! At least tell me if they are still alive or not…
- My sweetie and I tried to watch this DVD with the Director’s Commentary – but it was way too annoying. I’m a unitasker through and through – instead of fighting my nature, I’m learning to embrace and celebrate it.
- The participants are now only a few years older than me; and damn, most of them look like hell. (Though most of them looked rough at 35, too.) Looks aren’t everything, of course – but external appearance can indicate how a person feels internally. I hope in a few years time I both look and feel good. Not “young”, but good.
- The first participant on this video said that his life was basically over now (“I’ve done about as much as I can”) – and I find this incredibly sad. I don’t want to feel like my life is over until it is literally done (i.e., when I take my final breath).
- Whereas the theme for 35 Up seemed to be parental illness and death, the theme of 42 Up seems to be marriage (and marital strife).
- A few of the kids’ personalities have changed a bit as they have grown older – but most of the participants are fundamentally the same now as they were at 7, 14, 21, 28, and 35 years old.
- One participant who was absent in 35 Up was still absent here – with zero mention as to why. What has gone on with him? What’s his story? I need to know. I need closure.
- It’s interesting how the exact same experience is perceived and processed in so many different ways between various participants. It goes back to one of the fundamental questions of the film: How much of life is nurture (experience), and how much is nature (the way we internally process the world)? Such a curious question…
- I’m really glad my sweetie wanted to watch this series with me: 1) so I can talk about it with someone, and 2) so I’ll actually watch all of the films. I’m starting to struggle at this point in the series…
- The video quality in this film finally looks “modern”. Wow – that took longer than I expected.
- The participants are growing increasingly irritated/frustrated/angry with the reporter/film maker; many (most?) of them feel that he has “misrepresented” them within the interview/editing process. And perhaps some of that is true – but I suspect a larger source of their anger is insecurity with their own selves, and regret for some of their own personal choices/decisions thus far in their lives.
- There is still no mention of one of the participants who has now been missing for 20 years. C’mon, tell us something!
- The story of the kids is now the story of their families: their parents, spouses, exes, children, grandchildren…
- After being gone for the past three films, one of the participants is back! But he only came back to promote his band. Incredibly disappointing.
- A semi-rhetorical question was posed from one of the participants inquiring about the accuracy of arriving at any sort of conclusions from this longitudinal study. The response was profound, and made me pause: “[The series] isn’t a picture of Nick, or Suzie, but it’s a picture of anybody [aging] over time.” The Up Series is the story of lives, and of Life. The set of videos is so compelling not because the individuals are super-special, but because the premise, the life journey, is rich – no matter who you are or what you have. Something big “clicked” in me at this moment in the film.
As I reflected on the series in its entirety, three key thoughts came to my mind:
1) In reflecting on why some of the adults found the process of participating in this documentary series so painful (one of them literally described it as “a big pill of poison that enters my life every seven years”), I wondered if it was because in the process of answering questions and stating what has transpired over the past few years, each individual is forced to become truly aware of the life they are living? Instead of ignoring/numbing out/refuting what each individual has struggled with/against in their life, they are forced to really look at those things, and articulate them to another human. But ultimately, isn’t it better to address regrets and difficulties in life in the present versus as death nears?
Some of the adults are carbon copies of the 7-year-old children they were – but others are changed, and some quite dramatically. This tells me:
2) That anything is possible.
3) That we each have a lot of control over our own lives. Not total control, I get it – but
we do have the power to influence our own futures. We just have to be willing – both to make the decision, and to exert the effort to push the decision to fruition.
So there you go – life lessons from a life-long study. The next logical question is will there be a 63 Up? And if so, will I be around to see it? Only time will tell – on both counts…
(If you want to see pictures of each participant’s progression over time, you can view them here.)