Life on Film: Every Seven Years
The recent release of the film “56 Up” served as a reminder for me to catch up on the seven films that preceded it. A magnificent achievement and a gift to those who are curious about life and all that comes with it, this documentary series began in 1964 and continues to record the lives of fourteen English people from various backgrounds every seven years. I’d caught a bit of “42 Up” on PBS some years back, but with the advent of Netflix and Instant Watch, all are now available for immediate viewing, with the exception of “7 Plus 7” (though many clips from that episode are reviewed in the latter films, and it’s also available on DVD). Remarkably, all fourteen people are still alive, and most are doing well with their lives despite the challenges that so many them – and so many of all of us – face: divorce, mental and physical illness, lack of money, losing parents, raising kids and career disappointments.
The premise of the movie is a quote attributed to St. Francis Xavier: “Give me the boy until he is seven, and I will give you the man,” and indeed, upon watching the film “7 Up,” it’s not difficult to forecast the lives of some of the kids with a degree of accuracy. And as I continue to make my through the series (I’m midway through watching “42 Up”) I can’t help but put myself in the shoes of the subjects of these movies and wonder how my life would have looked on film at age seven (and every seven years after). I’m quite glad it wasn’t, but I’m grateful to the people who’ve agreed to be filmed, for they’ve helped to reveal the humanity in all of us.
Making my way through the series, I find myself captivated with these rather ordinary lives and rooting for the happy endings of every one of them. When we are shown a happily married couple in one film, only to discover that they’ve divorced by the next film, it’s a heartbreaking revelation. This isn’t “The Bachelorette” or “Survivor”; these are real lives of common people doing the best they can with what they have.
It reminds me of my twentieth high school reunion, the last one I attended, when so many people came together with seemingly one collective thought: I hope you’re doing okay. No longer did it matter who had been friends with whom, who had been a jock or a band nerd, or who had been cocky or humble. Life has a way of humbling everyone, even the most successful among us, and it was gratifying to discover that so many of us had survived, had persevered, had found happiness, lost it, and then found it again, had endured the unimaginable only to come out of the other side stronger and more grateful.
Perhaps Roger Ebert said it best in the last paragraph of his review for “56 Up”: It is a mystery, this business of life. I can’t think of any cinematic undertaking that allows us to realize that more deeply.
I couldn’t agree more. I’m rooting for the class of 1986 from Brookfield East High School, and I’m rooting for the fourteen people who have given so much of themselves to the study of life. Not just their lives, but all of ours.