Rose Marie Borutski, Host of Health Matters (Fridays 4-5pm) viewed 49 UP, by film maker Michael Apted, which played at the Pacific Cinematheque. This extrordinary documentary is part of a long-standing series that makes one ask some very deep questions about life choices. Imagine how you would answer some really, really tough questions every seven years....
49 UP, Director Michael Apted. 2006. Imagine being part of a British documentary that began in 1964 when you were seven years old and continued every seven years thereafter. Imagine being asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and then being revisited at 14 and 21 and 28 and 35 and 42 and 49 and asked, “How’re you doing?” and “Are you who you want to be?” Imagine being asked, “Do you worry about your sanity?” and answering, “Other people do.” Imagine being asked, “Do you ever think you’re going mad?” and answering, “I don’t think it. I know it.” I don’t know how I would answer the litany of tough questions asked, but I did like the answers, and I did like the people.
It’s 2006, and at 65 Michael Apted is a seasoned director. In 1963, at 22, Michael Apted started his first job as researcher interviewing fifteen 7 year olds from the lower and upper classes about what they wanted to be when they grew up, about girls and girlfriends. At 23, Michael Apted had 7 UP, a documentary showing the rigid stratification of British society already evident in 7 year olds. In 1963-64, people in Britain and elsewhere in the industrialized world had a sense that class would no longer matter. It would be something eradicated given the opening up of education and jobs.
And yet, here with 49 UP, each participant is where they are because of where they started. Those who started out in poverty now have the health problems, and had parents who died young. Class matters. Hence the Jesuit quote summarizing the series, “Give me the child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.” It acts as a statement, and a question. It’s a documentary that will support developmental psychologists, just not in the way they might think.
However, Michael Apted digs deeper, and shows how each individual works hard to create the next step of a better life year by year and how systems change year by year, and how much can change in seven years. He reveals the larger patterns in growing older, facing our own mortality and satisfactions. He reveals the very smallest of patterns, finding that we really just want to be interesting and enjoyable to someone, to be likable, and liked. 49 UP is a film about life, and is life afirming, about thirteen 49 year-olds navigating and negotiating life, told with dignity. It may appear sanitized, but just enough so we think about the bigger things in life like class, education, family, divorce on our way working towards a better life.
We may not see where the pattern changes and that it changes when we are making the changes.
Go see 49 UP. It’s an extraordinary chat with ordinary people who live extraordinarily ordinary lives where nothing noticeably big happens - with Michael Apted asking, “How’re yah doing,” every seven years, and wanting an answer way beyond, ‘Fine, just fine.”
Imagine how you would answer some really, really tough questions about your
life - every seven years.