The Days, Weeks, and Years of a Life

The famous quote of inspirational coffee mugs may be true: “It’s not the days in your life, but the life in your days.”

I am currently obsessed with the British documentary series: the UP Series, which follows 14 people over the course of their lives, checking back in with them starting when they are 7 in 1964 up until the most recent last year when they are 56.

It’s really like nothing else you’ve ever seen on T.V. or film. Our lives seem over documented now and surely by the time children born in within the last decade are elderly every moment of their exsitences will be available instantly for them to reflect on.

And while I’ve seen some beautiful daily photo-a-day portrait projects (this video of the first year of a baby’s life in tiny few second snippets has been making the rounds this week), nothing has comparred to the frankness of the slow burn of real life over not seconds, minutes, hours and days, but years and decades.

The tag line used in the first film that’s repeated throughout is “Give me a child when he is seven and I’ll show you the man.” The idea being that who we are in something that is always there — that the hints of our adult hang-ups, quirks, and struggles are inherent in personality from the time we are children. I have just finished 35 UP, and it’s strange and interesting in so many ways. In the first, yes — a lot of their personalities and even paths their lives took were hinted at decades earlier, some almost eerily so.

Watching it as a 30-something American woman in 2013, many elements strike me as how people are also such a product of the time and place that they grow up. By 28 most were married with children, and by 35 a few were already divorced, and for the most part career isn’t something that has registered of any importance among the women. There is also something so almost stereotypically British about the participants: when they fail and some also when they succeed, they are humble in a way I doubt many young Americans even of the same time and certainly now would be. And of course the stark class issues (which seem to be the basis of the series–how life turns out drastically differently for those with privilege) are both interesting and annoying.


But I think the most remarkable thing about the series is the thing that is most remarkable about life. As much as your disposition as a child might hint at the adult you will become and there are still so many unexpected turns that your life might take — both for the better and worse. One of the boys who seemed well off and carefree as a child ended up homeless and mentally ill as a young adult. A East End roughneck built a fairly comfortable life for himself as a taxi driver and sometimes actor. And some of the couples who at 21 or 28 seemed sure to split up remain together while others end.

There are three more in the series, 42, 49 and most recently 56 which was filmed in 2012. I could read about how their lives turn out but I look forward to watching it unfold, and I hope they continue with 63 in 2019, and beyond.

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One response

  1. No more peeking ahead!

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