Inspired by the Jesuit maxim “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man,” a U.K.-based filmmaking team has interviewed a diverse group of 7-year-old English children every seven years for the past 42 years, asking them about their lives and their dreams for the future. Director Michael Apted, a researcher for the original film, returns with the latest chapter, revealing more life-changing decisions and more shocking announcements. Most members of the original group agreed to take part, speaking out on a variety of subjects including love, marriage, career, class and prejudice.
This film, in all of its fascinating glimpses into the lives of a diverse group of people coming into adulthood and learning about love, loss, and redemption, was entirely too long. Two-and-a-half hours sitting in a theater is too much for my bad knees to take, especially when considering everyone’s story bore a striking resemblance to one another’s.
Some might feel it best to start with “7 Up” and work through the series in order, but seeing the latest installment is repetitive enough already. Not to say it isn’t enjoyable; quite the contrary. The most intriguing of the lot for me was Neil, who suffered from depression as a teen and ended up living on the streets as a young adult. “49 Up” shows him currently working as a politician. With a poignant story, he recalled laying on the grass and seeing a butterfly land beside him. Watching it gently open and close its wings, he contemplated that despite its short lifespan, it was enjoying simply being a butterfly. He reflected that if people could learn to enjoy simply existing in their own skin, they would be infinitely better off.
It struck me that every single person – despite class, gender, or outlooks on life as a young adult – ended up measuring success not by monetary gains or carreer-based accomplishments, but rather by happiness, generally achieved by having a family. As one of the participants reflected, “It must be awfully lonely without a family.” Perhaps it really is as simple as that.