42 Up

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42 Up

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Premised on the theory, "Give me the child until he is seven, and I will show you the man," the extraordinary 7 Up documentary series began in 1964 with 14 children from widely varied backgrounds, and has charted their development every seven years. The idea was to comment on the British class system by demonstrating how people are predetermined to stay within their social strata. But over the course of this grand experiment, director Michael Apted and his brave subjects have wrestled with basic questions about love, family, ambition, and loss that cut much deeper into the human condition. Only nine of the original 14 remain—notably, two of the more privileged boys, one a documentary producer for the BBC, dropped out after 35 Up—and, now firmly entrenched in middle age, they're ready to take stock in their lives. The common themes in 42 Up are reconciliation and regret, a pervasive feeling amongst the participants that they're forever wedded to the sum result of their successes and failures. Most are married (or remarried) with children and stable homes, which is no small accomplishment for Tony Walker, a cabbie from London's poor East Side, or Symon Basterfield, a mixed-race laborer who grew up in foster care. In moving testimonies, both wish their parents were still alive to see how they'd turned out. Others have seen their fortunes reverse over time: Suzy Dewey, an aimless and neurotic chain-smoker at 21, is now happily married and involved in bereavement counseling; Jackie Bassett, mother to three young sons, went through a second divorce and is forced to live hand-to-mouth. And then there's Neil Hughes, the series' most eccentric and wounded character, who was left hopelessly adrift in the British and Scottish countryside at 28 and 35, but has since taken a startling turn for the better. Now that the subjects' lives have more or less stabilized, 42 Up includes nothing like the dramatic transformations that took place during their 20s. But Apted's familiar questions coax them into a reflective mood that's equally profound, revealing the particular challenges and contentment that come with middle age. The unique privilege of watching them grow up on screen continues to inspire gratitude.

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