Following the light behind their eyes

Have you seen British documentary series called "Up"? The first one filmed in 1964 is called 7 Up and features interviews with 14 British children all aged seven. Then, director Michael Apted filmed the same kids every seven years thereafter: 14 Up...21 Up...28 Up...35 Up...42 Up...49 Up... The next film - 56 Up - is due for release in May, 2012.

I only caught the first four — years ago — but these documentaries really stuck with me. Their original purpose, I think, was to study the effects of class (the children were purposely chosen to represent society's socioeconomic range). However, the series ends up revealing so much more.

First, it's just plain fascinating to watch people change from one seven year period to the next! But I think the most interesting piece is the light. What we end up following from one film to the next is not so much lifestyle or life choices, but  the light that so clearly shines in each child's eyes at seven years old and what happens to it as they grow older.

As far as I'm concerned, the light steals the show in 7 Up. That documentary offers the viewer plenty of opportunity to look directly into the eyes of all fourteen children as they answer questions delivered by a voice off-screen. And all of them - to every child - literally glow with light and passion.

It's somewhat shocking, then, to meet them as teens and again as young adults in the later documentaries. To look into dull, dark eyes (many of them) where the light used to be. We are left to wonder what happened to extinguish the light by the time they are fourteen or twenty-one or older. The interviews, of course, provide lots of insight.

But there's something else. Not all of the subjects grow out of the light. In some of the people, their eyes continue to sparkle! And it's clear — eyes don't lie. The light we see in the eyes of some of the young adults is the very same light we see in the very same eyes when they are children.

So we are left with more questions: how did those subjects manage to hold on to the light and what caused their peers to lose it?  And then, complicating the matter even further, some of those "light extinguished" people recover it again seven years later in 28 Up! What's up with that?

I've often wondered what happened to those kids as they shouldered on into adulthood (having missed the films past 28 Up).  Did more of them lose the light, or did more recover it? And is there a pattern that emerges that can illuminate our own lives as we ourselves grow up...and old : )

But there's one truth, for sure, that is worth remembering:

All people start out with light.

And some people manage to hold on to it — I want to know how.

I'm guessing I might find some insight in the later films so I plan to order and watch the whole series before 56 Up premiers (hint to family: great gift idea!)  It's available here if you're interested, too (not an affiliate link). When a film or any work of art stays with you over time the way these documentaries have stuck with me for decades, I know there's a breakthrough waiting. In the spirit of my renewed commitment to tracking breakthroughs, I won't let this one lie unattended much longer.

I'll keep you posted!