I watched the latest installment of the “Up Series”. This English documentary follows the lives of 14 individuals starting from the time they were seven, starting back in 1964. This first black and white episode titled “Seven Up” interviews these 14 children from varying English backgrounds about the big questions in life: relationship, family, career, class, wealth, politics, race, and happiness.
It’s interesting getting to see young people tackle such questions. And it’s fun to look back at life in 1960s England. But the real magic in this series, I think, starts seven years later…
Recent articles on this blog about ancestry and elders have addressed the change that takes place both within and outside a person over the duration of their life. Most often, we disregard this change because when talking to a grandparent, for instance, we only see a snapshot of this change caught in that moment.
But in 1971, these 14 children were revisited for the next installment of the series titled “7 Plus Seven”. And with the black and white footage of the previous episode spliced in, one gets to see the children behind these adolescents who are now interviewed in grainy color. It’s a marvel the change that takes place in a person in just seven years’ time!
Then they speak. And we see how their demeanor and views have shifted since childhood. The human experience unfolds before our eyes with the juxtaposition of previous interviews, giving a perspective of the change we often miss in its normal, gradual pace. Each subsequent episode, titled 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up, etc., shows the individuals in their present situation and compares them to their younger selves:
We all have our theories and ideas of what makes a human, human. Is it one’s family, their country, their genetics? It’s hard to prove our ideas by watching other people because it takes a long time for people to grow up. But this ambitious project now headed, and having been so since 14 Up, by Michael Apted, allows us to constrict decades into mere hours to offer an unprecedented perspective.
We see how these individuals change (and sometimes more interesting, how they stay the same). We see how social class is maintained or changed. We see some make good turns, some make unfortunate ones. Getting to know them, we feel their pain and joy when talking about divorce, parental death, moving, new jobs, marriage, and having children.
It’s beautiful seeing how the human grows and experiences each stage in life. How they started off as children of seven and now are grandparents to ones this age, how they started off so spry and energetic and are now starting to wrinkle.
In 2012, the episode 56 Up was released. You can catch it on Netflix or buy it on DVD. Every other episode is available on YouTube.
The series isn’t perfect, of course. One misses out on a lot of activity and growth in the years between the tapings. There’s also the effect of being on camera that may change one’s demeanor and forthrightness. Nonetheless, the participants and refreshingly candid. The Up Series offers a glimpse into the human experience unlike anything I’ve ever seen.