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July 25, 2014

Seven Up!

by Franz Patrick


Seven Up! (1964)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man. — Francis Xavier

Director Paul Almond takes a group of seven-year-olds from starkly different backgrounds and asks them a range of questions about themselves and those around them. The longitudinal project was conceived in order to show “a glimpse of the shop steward and the executive England in the year 2000.” A major theme involves the great schism among the lower-, middle-, and upper-classes.

Barely forty minutes long, the documentary has no choice but to be efficient once the gates open. Although the study offers a pool of twenty children to be interviewed, we quickly realize that only about half stand out, “representatives” of each class, if you will. Particularly entertaining is a middle-class boy named Neil.

“When I get married, I don’t want to have any children. They’re always doing naughty things and making the whole house untidy.” When asked about the future, he claims he would like to be an astronaut or a coach driver. As someone who has had experience working with children, Neil has the type of personality, a joie de vivre, that I am instinctively drawn to. Maybe it is because such a personality, in some ways, is similar to my own. Whenever he has something to say, my brain responds by hoping that the adult Neil turned out well and happy. I was caught off-guard in that already I was invested in how each of them would turn out.

Initially, it appears as though the children are not being asked interesting questions. However, the subjects often provide very interesting answers. Do they have a boyfriend or girlfriend? What do they think of the opposite sex? How do they perceive fighting in the school grounds? What do they like to do during their spare time? There are clear disparities among the classes.

About halfway through, the nature of the questions changes a little bit. What do they think about money, the rich, and the poor? Do they know any colored people? If they have, what do they think of them? More interesting, if they haven’t, what do they think of black people? The subjects, most of whom have not had prior interaction amongst one another since they go to different schools, are later allowed to spend time together. What do they think about each other then?

The director asks questions worth posing such as whether discipline versus freedom, like participating in an activity like ballet (the rich) or doing whatever activity during recess (the middle-class and the poor), plays a role on how successful a child will become in the later years. Perhaps the answer may be obvious, but what the film shows during its short but effective running time is that an element of surprise is always right around the corner.

Since I have worked with kids, I thought I knew what I was in for. And then I was reminded that these children were not only from a different era, they were also from a different part of the globe. It is an exciting opening chapter because it will prove to be a whole new learning experience.

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