Thursday, April 11, 2013

56 Up

"Give me a child for his first seven years," goes that hoary Jesuit maxim, "and I'll give you the man." This was the animating principle of the Up documentary series, which premiered in Britain in 1964. There have since been seven installments catching up with the initial kids. To the Jesuit saying I'd like also to introduce that tidbit of biological trivia about our cells regenerating every seven years. Watching 56 Up, I couldn't help wondering how stable are our identities, our cores? Do we all have some nugget of infrangible character at the helm of us, a mold that was set in those first seven years? How long/elastic are our tethers connecting us to our past, to that first essential swatch of life?

As fascinating an experiment as this series is, I can't help but feel a sense of cruelty underlying it. As the documentary catches up with each participant, it sums up the past fifty-six years of their life in about ten to fifteen minutes. In heartbreakingly quick cuts and juxtapositions we see the same human being state their youthful ambitions of love and success, then attempt them, then either achieve or revise their drives, and then anyway lose their best intentions to the burglary of circumstantial life. Of course all the subjects are very sober and thoughtful of the peaks and valleys they've traversed, because they've been able to digest those ups and downs in real time. But edited and whittled as it is, the abuses of life come to seem much more dramatic, incapacitating, a collection of loss and theft. As a youngish guy, the picture it presents of life as a meat grinder is daunting as hell.

Then add to this to the quantum notion of queering outcomes through the sheer process of observation. These are people who are forced to consider their lives in succinct seven-year packages. One has to wonder, too, how much of our lives is determined by a certain unawareness of our actions, of the ultimate teleology of our desires.

The documentary series is interesting in that it's self-aware, is about itself as much as it's about its subjects. It's interesting to watch the subjects disparage the documentary they're in, criticize its very ability to present a well-rounded picture of them. Should we trust the view of these life that the series presents, especially when the documentary itself is telling us not to? At the same time, we're made to wonder who is a better judge of our lives? Ourselves or everyone else?

As many of the subjects comment, the documentary started out as a social experiment executed along class and economic lines. What's interesting to see is that, while those influences do affect the ease with which kids get started, whatever strictures or lack thereof become somewhat irrelevant, as lately the economic screws have been put to just about everybody.

- Andrew

Bookshelf Home

1 comment: