Monday, January 08, 2007

Who were you at seven?

Jeffrey and I have been slowly consuming the 7 Up! series, which started about 40 years ago. Michael Apted interviewed several British 7-year-olds and then followed up with them every 7 years. We're up to 35 now, and it's been very, very interesting. Michael Apted (who has a film called "Amazing Grace" coming out, the trailer for which made me cry in the theater Saturday), definitely set out to show how children from different neighborhoods and different social classes fare. And truly, the children stay in their social strata pretty rigidly throughout their lives. It's a very compelling series.

One boy's journey is pretty heartbreaking. Neil starts out at seven extremely happy, literally skipping around Liverpool. His eyes are bright, and he talks about how he wants to be an astronaut or a coach driver when he grows up. Something about the black and white footage even makes him appear to glow. But by 14 he's awkward, and by 21 he's squatting in an apartment, having dropped out of university. By 28 he's just floating around, aimlessly and joblessly. He's dark and unhappy. I wonder, what could have happened to you, Neil? What took the light from your eyes? I mean, I know, everyone grows up and there are problems and there is disappointment. And sometimes it seems like growing up is just learning to keep it together. But the drop is really remarkable.

The premise of the series is a Jesuit motto: Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man. And for the most part, it seems true. At seven, I was in the paper because I'd found a couple errors in a book and had written to the publisher. I had written something in my letter to the publisher about not getting mad, and the interviewer asked me about it. I said, "I didn't want him to get mad. Some men do." Jesus. Well, today I'm an editor, and the other thing, well, I don't know. But it still seems about right.

We also saw "Children of Men" this weekend. I'm still thinking about it. It's set in the future, when humanity has suddenly become infertile. There are several long, continuous shots of warfare. There's also, hands down, the most exciting car chase I've ever seen. My stomach is still tense from it. Anyway, I much recommend it.

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