In Which My Neurosis Ruins a Perfectly Good Film
The very sweet and fun movie, “Up,” is making a few top ten lists out there and it probably should be on a few top ten lists. Pixar is undeniably producing some of the best American animated films out there. This film has some very bittersweet moments and complex emotions that make it more than the usual kid’s fluff and that’s good too. One critic I read nominated Up for movie of the year based on “the married life sequence alone.”
Here’s where I go neurotic.
(Oh and spoiler alert if you haven’t watched the movie. You should check it out if you haven’t. It is worth your while.)
The married life sequence is amazing. It conveys an entire life with no words. It made me laugh at the beginning. It had me choking back tears at the end. It is subtle and the music wrenches your heart as it performs a lovely duet with the images.
And, as a woman, it makes me wanna jump off a fucking cliff. Because, then, at least I’d get some adventure before I died. Ellie goes out with a whimper, and maybe that was ok for her. She loved her husband and he was a good man. But, damn, if you’re a woman in these movies you just don’t get much do you? You get to be the plot point that motivates the main character to do something crazy and amazing. Where was all that ingenuity while Ellie was alive?
I understand. It’s nobody’s fault. Fate gets in the way sometimes. The married life montage shows the couple breaking into their “Paradise Falls” fund on a repeated basis to fix the car and the roof when a tree falls on it. Soon the goal of the fund is forgotten and stowed on a dusty shelf. I guess this just hit a little too close to home. Money is limited and time is short. We make choices and sacrifices and dreams often get laid on the altar of daily living to have their throats slit and their blood drained away. Am I bitter? Mebbe justa tetch.
Ellie’s infertility left me with mixed feelings as well. Again, this was beautifully visualized in the montage. The story-telling was superb, but the message…is it that if Ellie had been able to have children she would have been completely fulfilled and there never would have been a reason to revive her childhood dream of going to Paradise Falls? As a mother, I have to confess that, while I love my children dearly and can’t imagine life without them, they don’t erase my desire for other things. They are not a substitute for seeing the world. I want to see it with them. They don’t eliminate my need to write or my ambition to be published. If anything, they make those dreams keener. I don’t want their role model to be a woman with no ambition of her own.
There is also the issue of the house being a symbol of Ellie after she died. This hits a little close to home (agh! Pun intended?) as well. My mother invested a lot of herself, her soul really, in my childhood home. In my father’s later years I remember the house being the source of nuclear-threat level fights. Once we kids were grown and out on our own, my father wanted to sell the house. The mortgage was crushing and the five bedroom house seemed really unnecessary for two people. He talked about buying a trailer in Arizona or something. My mother couldn’t imagine it. Wouldn’t hear of it really. This house was her dream in a lot of ways. She finally had it renovated just as she wanted it after a fire demolished much of the lower level. Now the laundry was upstairs and they had a lovely sitting room off their bedroom and a huge master bath. She didn’t want to be anywhere else. My dad would have to keep working for a long time to keep them in the house, however, and I think it really overwhelmed him. I think of Carl in “Up” dragging that damn house along with him and all the trouble it got him. Houses as anchors. Emotionally. Physically. Financially.
Our money went to this house. Money that could have done a lot of different things. I have myself to blame for that entirely. I wanted a house. I pushed for it. Barbie Dream House dreams? I wanted a space that was entirely ours. It didn’t quite work out that way and, in some ways, this house feels like an anchor too. The mortgage ensures we both have to work. The living arrangement can be stifling, also a necessity born of the mortgage. Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate living here. It is a lovely home. I just don’t want it to eat my soul. I don’t want it to be so important that I can’t imagine ever letting go of it.
Carl lets go at the end of Up as he says to Russell, “It’s only a house.” It’s not a stand-in for Ellie. It isn’t Ellie’s soul. Or is it? One of the last scenes is the house looking very “happy” and “at peace” (as much as a house possibly can look this way) on the edge of Paradise Falls, just like the picture Carl and Ellie painted together. Is this a memorial to Ellie? Or is Ellie trapped in those walls still? She didn’t get to go much of anywhere in the movie. It would make sense if she remained in that house after death too.
Yes, there is a very touching scene where Carl opens the “Stuff I’m going to Do” section of Ellie’s childhood notebook and sees pictures of their life together where he expected to see the empty space of an unfulfilled life. Ellie had been very happy with Carl. But her note to him about being complete in their adventure together feels more like the kindness of someone about to leave this world and unwilling to saddle their loved one with guilt than the whole truth. Or maybe this is what Pixar imagines for women? Love should be all we need? There aren’t too many of us in Pixar movies in general. We stand in the shadows. We play supporting roles. We help the men or hinder the men, but we are not the lead. The story is never really about us. This is why “Up” haunts me. It feels like a warning about not having the courage to be the lead character in your own life. So there you have it. I have turned a sweet movie about deep and abiding love into a story about regret and the death of dreams. Maybe I need to get serious about those New Year’s resolutions or something. Or get on some anti-depressants.
For now, I take comfort in the fact that American women still outlive American men at a greater rate. Sorry, Pixar. If Carl and Ellie aren't going on the adventure together, then Ellie's more likely to win the waiting game.