Brainflow Feed

That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, they revolve mostly around films.)

Up

Sunday, June 14th, 2009 8:40 pm—Film

Up (USA 2009, Animation/Action/Adventure/Comedy), Writers: Bob Peterson, Pete Docter; Director: Peter Docter

Up, the latest animated movie from Disney’s Pixar, has gotten a lot of hype. I’m not convinced it deserves the near-perfect ratings it’s been getting, but I will say this: The parts that moved me were incredible and more than made up for the parts that didn’t.

The trailer for Up gives very little of the plot away, and I want to honour that as much as possible. So here’s what you need to know, in a nutshell: Elderly Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) manages to hook his house up to thousands of colourful helium balloons that carry him up, up and away. Hovering somewhere above the city streets, he discovers that young Wilderness Explorer Russell (Jordan Nagai) has stowed away on his porch, joining him for the journey. Along the way, Carl and Russell have many adventures, including meeting a talking dog named Dug (Bob Peterson).

Those are the story’s nuts and bolts. But to really explore why I loved this movie, I have to elaborate on something that isn’t seen in the trailer. It happens in the film’s first 10 minutes, so I don’t think mentioning it here counts as a spoiler. But just in case, please consider this your warning.

We meet Carl as a young boy who dreams of adventure. One day, he comes across a dilapidated old house and stumbles into the adventurer of his dreams—the equally young Ellie. The two become fast friends, and in a beautiful, heart wrenching sequence, we see their life together play out before us. Without any dialogue, we watch Carl and Ellie fall in love and get married, renovate and move into the beat-up old house where they met, discover they can’t have children, push aside their dreams of finding adventure in South America, and inevitably grow old and infirm. When Carl visits Ellie in the hospital, he floats a balloon into her room, just as she did on the first night she came to his window some 70 years before. And it instantly brought me to tears.

This is part of the marvel of Up’s opening. You see a 70-year love story play out in a matter of minutes, and at the end of it you feel Carl’s loss almost as deeply as if had been your own. The look on Carl’s face when he steps into the hospital room after floating Ellie her last balloon took me right back to another hospital room, and a moment I’ll never forget. I was visiting my ailing grandfather, who by chance was sharing a room with a former colleague from the university where they’d both taught. As I wheeled my grandfather out of the room for a brief change of scenery, he locked eyes with the dying professor, and it was as if every memory they shared was instantly replayed between them. All those years spent running around campus, able-bodied, zipping through their lives—it all came down to that one moment in the hospital. They didn’t say a word, but the look they shared spoke volumes. They didn’t break eye contact until grandfather and I left the room.

In Up, the filmmakers brought all that back for me. Carl and Ellie’s story is summed up briefly and succinctly, and that makes it all the more poignant. Life really does go by in the blink of an eye, and no matter what you go through to get to the end of it, I imagine almost everyone must have that moment of wondering, “How did I get here so fast?”

I’m emphasizing Up’s opening both because it is by far the best part of the film and because it roots the rest of the movie’s success. With Ellie gone, Carl becomes bitter and angry, shutting himself off from the rest of the world. When faced with having to leave his beloved home, Carl remembers his promise to Ellie—that he would get to South America and discover Paradise Falls, “a land lost in time”—and throws caution to the wind, setting off in his airborne house.

The sequence when the house takes off, buoyed by so many colourful balloons, is uplifting and poetic and almost as moving as the earlier sequence between Carl and Ellie. You can feel his spirits soar for the first time since his wife’s passing. The joy of seeing those glorious balloons pulling Carl’s dreams back to life recalls a childhood delight that’s on par with bubbles and fireworks. There’s something about not knowing where an adrift balloon could end up that really captures the imagination, and suddenly Carl’s house takes on that magic and power.

Disappointingly, not long after Carl and Russell take flight, I found myself a little deflated by their “adventure.” Dug is funny, and many of his lines are spot-on as far as capturing dog behaviour. But some of the other plot points and characters are much less inspired, and a couple are even annoying (like the Alpha dog). It’s not that the movie is bad at any point, it’s just that its weaker moments seem somewhat silly compared with the stunning promise delivered in the film’s opening.

What kept Up afloat for me were the constant reminders of Ellie. There’s a deeply touching moment later in the film when Carl goes through Ellie’s scrapbook and discovers that she saw their life together as an adventure. Her memory haunts the story as much as it haunts Carl, and that’s a very good thing. It makes everything so much more meaningful, from beginning to end.

*            *            *

This post is for SM, my oldest friend, who won’t give up on dreams, knows the magic of a tree, and will walk mile upon mile to find the next great adventure. Happy birthday.

One Response

  1. Jalisa Panama

    Thanks for the interesting read! Alright playtime is over and back to school work.

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