“Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man.”
This quote perfectly describes Michael Apted’s The Up Series. The Up Series is not only documentary filming at its finest, but it is an important sociological study. The series started in 1964, with a group of filmmakers who interviewed 14 children, all age seven. Seven years later, they sought out the same 14 children for follow-up interview. This was repeated when the subjects were 21, 28, 35, and 42. As he chats with them about how things are going, his films penetrate to the central mystery of life, asking the same questions that Wim Wenders poses in “Wings of Desire:” Why am I me and why not you? Why am I here and why not there? They also strike me as an inspired, even noble, use of the film medium. No other art form can record so well the look in an eye, the feeling in an expression, the thoughts that go unspoken between the words. To look at these films, is to meditate on the astonishing fact that man is the only animal that knows it lives in time.
Tony. Suzy. Jackie, Lynn, and Sue. John, Andrew, and Charles. Peter and Neil. Nick. Simon and Paul. Bruce. These are ordinary names and ordinary people and their combined stories represent an extraordinary experience. Their lives and personalities have changed throughout the documentary but their life objectives they thought of at age of 7 remained almost the same. At the age of 7, a viewer can have an idea of what their future holds. “The Child is father of the man,” Wordsworth wrote. That seems literally true as we look at these films. The 7-year-olds already reveal most of the good and bad elements, that flower in later life. Sometimes there are surprises; a girl who was uptight and morose at 21, vowing never to marry, blossoms in the later films into a cheerful wife and mother. And consider Neil, who for most followers of the series has emerged as the most compelling character. He was a brilliant but pensive boy, who at 7 said he wanted to be a bus driver, so he could tell the passengers what to look for out the windows; he saw himself in the driver’s seat, a tour guide for the lives of others.
The reason why I chose Suzy and Neil because their lives turned totally down-side up. After seeing Suzy and Neil at 21, one might conclude that these people will remain the same and therefore carry on with the same thoughts and patterns. However, that is not the case. At age of 7, Suzy was very mature. She acted the same way her parents acted. She was very elegant and feminine. She didn’t acted much like a child. Suzy had never met a “colored” person and didn’t ever want to meet one. When asked about her future family, she said she wanted two children when she grows up, and wanted a nanny to look after them. At age 14, Suzy no longer has a problem with “colored” people and the only reason that she did “seven plus seven” was because her parents made her. At age 21, Suzy didn’t seem very happy with life. This may have had something to do with the fact that she was bitter about her parents splitting when was only 14. Due to this, she had a very cynical look towards marriage. She admitted that she hated the 7 up series and she was smoking during the interview. She left school when she was sixteen and went to Paris. After she returned from Paris, she went to secretarial college and got a job afterwards. At age 28, despite all of her cynical views on marriage due to her parents, Suzy got married to a man and had two boys. She decided she no longer wanted a nanny to look after her kids and wanted to do it herself. Suzy’s life was completely changed after her marriage. At age 35, she was still married and happy with her life, however, she regrets the way that she spent her later teenage years and wished that she had tried harder in life.
When taking a close look at Suzy when she was seven. She was mature and feminine, and her personality reflects on her when she became 28. At this age, she was a loving mother and took care of her children. By the age of seven, she had already developed her personality that accompanied her through her adulthood.
Unlike Suzy, Neil’s childhood was very different from his adulthood. Neil was from an upper middle class family. He had what seemed to be a generally happy childhood. He was very enthusiastic when speaking, creative and imaginative. He wanted to be an astronaut when he grows up. When asked if he wanted kids, he said “No, because children make the house untidy and they are naughty.” At age 14, his personality changed a little bit and he was no more the enthusiastic and creative kid that he was. He became a little too mature. Neil has changed his mind about wanting to be an astronaut and wanted to become a coach driver and drive people around the country. By age 21, Neil was visibly unhappy. He had dropped out after a term in a university. He worked as a casual laborer. He didn’t own or rented a place where to live. He was mainly a lonely and depressed homeless person. At age 28, he was unemployed and lived of social security money. His depression became even more severe. He became very quiet and he seemed that he had many thoughts in his mind. By 35, he was living in a council house on the Shetland Islands, writing and appearing in the local pantomime. By 42, he had found some stability in his life and was involved in local council politics as a liberal democrat.
Suzy’s and Neil’s lives have changed completely. However, the change was not seeing in a matter of months, but in a matter of years. Their ability to make right and wise decisions took a long period of time because they obviously changed their minds when they were a little bit older. Suze decided to get married at 28 and Neil decided to get back on track at 42. This shows that sometimes in a person’s life, in order for him/her to make a certain decision, it may take a lot of thinking and a lot of time. It’s a very long process that may become useless at some point, but one should never give up into trying to make his/her life better. Decisions are the means by which a person live his or her life. Therefore, they have to be made wisely and responsibly.
The purpose of this documentary was to show how these 14 children have lived through life since the age of 7. It’s obvious that every 7 years, their life changes in either a good or a bad way, however, it’s very interesting to see how each individual coped with a certain situation in life. Suzy and Neil are the most interesting characters in this documentary because their personalities changed drastically. A person’s hardships in life always exist therefore, it is important to be able to overcome certain challenges. Hardships can be of any form. People usually believe that money is the solution but that’s not true. For example, Suzy had it all, she came from a rich family, but she was still unhappy when she was 21 because of her parents’ divorce. I am sure if she didn’t get married, she would have ended up being depressed or mentally unstable. In the other hand, Neil came from an upper-middle class family, and during his childhood, one might conclude that he had a bright future. His intelligence and enthusiasm would result in a very successful man in the future, but that’s not in his case. At his young adulthood, he became depressed and a homeless. In our society, being a homeless is being poor, therefore, we usually think that there’s no way a homeless person would make it into living a good life. This thought is strongly opposed on Neil’s situation because he got himself up and done something with his life at an old age. Usually people succeed in life before the age of 42, but he succeeded at his age. A french saying says: “It’s never too late to do well.”
This documentary is a great sociological study and it reveals many aspects of life. One common thing in all of the children’s cases is that they developed their personalities by age 7. Based on the interview, one can realize how their personalities seemed like and conclude certain ideas based on their facial expressions when answering certain questions. When I watched Neil being as a homeless, I thought he would never make it into a successful life. I also thought that he would remain and a homeless and probably become even more depressed, and would someday commit suicide. I also thought that Suzy would become a “bad” girl in the future and would never be able to form a family. I was very surprised by their outcomes and I learned that one must not judge a person based on their actions. Instead, one should question their actions and think that these actions do not shape a person’s life in the future because there is more time to make things happen. It was also an inspiration for me that it’s never too late or too old to do something productive in your life. We all learn from our mistakes. Although mistake are seeing as something wrong and negative in our societies, they are the means by which a person gets back on track. A person could never learn without making mistakes in life. There is no perfect direction or path of how life should be lived in order to be successful or happy. Everybody has different interests in life and everyone sees life differently. Therefore, nobody can tell what the future holds. The 7 Up series are a great source of human experience and they teach a lot of life matters. These series lack some ideas however. For example,it would have been more interesting if the film makers or the director asked Suzy and Neil about what was the one thing that made change their minds about a certain idea. Usually, a change in a person’s mind happens when many thoughts come together to result in a different idea, but in Suzy and Neil’s case, their lives was completely changed from black to white. I am sure that they had one single thought that triggered their change of minds. The documentaries would have been more interesting to cover the thoughts and ideas that inspired them to overcome their hardships. Also, it would have been more informative if the filmmakers have interviewed other children from a different country to compare it to the children of England by the end of the documentary. Although the 7 Up series have a general overview about the childhood and adulthood of people, it lacks certain aspects of society. Society is England is not an overview of the whole world’s societies. Therefore, it would have been better to interview other children from a different society and draw similarities and differences.
The Up Series is a chronicle of 14 individuals coping with experiences that interacted with everyone in the audience: youth, puberty, unrealized dreams, marriage, children, divorce, the death of parents, and mortality. One of the reasons these films speak to so many who have viewed them is that they cause the viewer to examine his or her own life. Watching The Up Series may be as close as we can get to time travel. There’s nothing flashy about these films. This is just pure human drama, and one of the most remarkable film projects ever embarked upon any time, anywhere. -Jihane Haddou