Life Measured Every Seven Years

Bruce 7 UpFour years for some is a long time to wait and anticipate—the next election, the next World Cup or Olympics and the next leap year. For some the anticipated wait is even longer—when is the next installment of the Up Series coming out? The answer for the last 50 years has been consistent: every seven years. For those not familiar with 7 Up, it is now a series of eight documentaries chronicling the lives of a dozen people from the London area since the age of seven–every seven years. None have died. They are now 56.


I have yet to see 56 Up—it is now playing in select cities across the United Sates—but I have watched and watched again the stories of these quite ordinary people as they age alongside me. The premise of the original filmmakers is reflected in a quote, repeated at the beginning of each film, a quote attributed to St. Francis Xavier “Give me the child until he is seven and I’ll give you the man”.


Freud asserted that our personalities are formed–the concrete is no longer wet–at even an earlier age than seven. Current day geneticists are of the opinion that once we emerge from the wetness of the womb the concrete is already set. On the nature/nurture controversy they are adamant—from the moment of birth, if not the moment of conception, our destiny is set. It is almost all (some dare to say it is all) nature.


Watching the lives of the “7 Uppers” unfold and the candid reflections they share with us leads me to quite the opposite conclusion: “Give me a child until he is seven and I have little to no idea what man or woman they will be.” I admit that I suffer from watching a film and missing the essential personal contact with these brave souls to base my supposition that the soul is a hard thing to pin down. So let us hear from Michael Apted, the director of all but the first film (he was a 22 year old research assistant on the initial installment—taking over as the director when he was 29 and the ‘subjects’ were 14). Michael admits to living in fear of any one of them dying. “I’m not being melodramatic, but it’s become so intimate, like a family.”


What does the director think now about the original assumption that the future of these children would be easily and accurately predictable?


“I learned,” Apted said in an interview, “a painful lesson about that. I made a bad mistake with Tony in 21 Up. At that time he was running around the dog park laying bets and I thought, this guy is going to end up in the slammer—wouldn’t it be a good idea to take him around East London in his cab and have him show me all the choice crime spots. So I did that and put it in the film and it proved to be a major embarrassment since he didn’t go that route at all and he was very upset when he figured out what I had done. After that I thought, fuck Michael, you can’t play God with these people! It’s interesting enough and hard enough to track what’s really happening in their lives, I don’t need to try to anticipate what might happen. I’m glad I learned that lesson early on!”


Next Tuesday evening I will address for our Kabbalah Live! Series the Unmasking of Time and will use one of the stories from the 7 Up Series to help us reflect on a half century of a life—and how one ordinary man’s life helps us understand the role of time (past, future and present) in our lives. The clip may only last 8 minutes—what it reveals can last a lifetime.


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