I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called 49 Up. It's part of a series of films that was made beginning in 1964 when several British schoolchildren were interviewed. At the time, the children were 7 years old. The filmmaker followed the children every 7 years and continues to do so now. The films are 7 Up, 14 Up, 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up, 42 Up, 49 Up, and this year 56 Up came out.
I have only seen 49 Up where the people were, of course, 49 years old. It is interesting to note a few different things:
One, how easy it is to think you know people when you see only snippets of their lives. Many of the film subjects discussed that aspect of the previous films. The way they are portrayed makes others believe they know them, know what they are thinking. But of course, the audience cannot know someone only from interviews on TV. We can know things ABOUT someone, such as views they express on political issues and so forth, but to know the person takes so much more than one film or even several films.
Second, I was struck by the vitriol one particular man's wife seemed to spew continuously even from the early days of the relationship. Old interviews with the subjects were shown and this woman was continually hateful toward the man. Later, it was revealed that she had caught him cheating on her, but she chose to stay with him. I have to wonder if she stayed because she felt the cheating had given her some kind of moral power over him. Whatever the case, it was sad to watch this man sit by smiling while this woman talked about him like he was a horrible individual, even from the early days of the relationship.
Third, and perhaps most interesting to me, was how many of the film's subjects expressed how painful the films are to make. I thought about this and realized that it would indeed be painful if any of us, every 7 years, had to revisit the past 7 years plus the previous years of our lives, sift through our decisions, our mistakes, our pain and joy, and share it on camera. I think it's a brave thing to do for this group of people. At 56 years old now, they've been doing it since they were 7. Imagine the changes in your own life since you were 7.
For some, they had indeed fulfilled their dreams and wishes. Others had fallen hard, picked themselves up, and carried on. What was really wonderful about the film is how the interview subjects had connected with one another by virtue of being in the film. They were from vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds and yet, they helped each other because being in the films together served as a sort of common ground.
In one case, one of the participants, Bruce, had allowed another of the participants, Neil, to live in his London apartment when Neil fell on hard times. Bruce helped him get back on his feet by providing shelter and emotional support. This was true in other ways for others in the films too.
It's a fascinating look at how our lives change and how they don't. How our dreams change and how they don't and the trajectories of our lives. It's worth watching and thinking about your own path in life.