Up (2009) – Pete Doctor (Dir.), Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer
I’ve seen Up before. A dozen times. Maybe a million. Somewhere in that realm. I know it back to front. I know almost every line, every shot. I own the soundtrack. I saw it in theaters twice. But this is no relapse. This is no Fifth Element. This is no mindless crap. This is Pixar. This is the most creative commercial institution currently working today. These boys, singlehandedly, are bringing back our childhoods one color-soaked laugh-fest at a time. Or they make Cars. Nobody’s perfect.
It’s been a while since I’ve flicked this bad boy into life. I remember the first time I witnessed that opening montage, the adorable children meeting for the first time and their descent into the deepest love. I remember watching them wish for children, the build up and then the loss. I remember seeing Ellie stumble as she takes a few steps towards Carl’s great surprise, the moment they’d been saving for their entire lives. I remember him sitting at the funeral, holding the balloon. Alone. Lost. His entire routine shattered and his one true happiness snuffed out.
That happens in eight minutes. Eight fucking minutes. More nuance and human emotion than in the entirety of the Twilight Saga. Yes, I have seen the Facebook posts but it is so true it hurts.
You sit there, witnessing these two people blossom and bloom. You see two lives intertwined. And then you see them shattered. I don’t care who you are, Voldemort, Darth Vader or even Mike “Ear Nibbler” Tyson. You cry. You cry like a fucking baby. You tell your girlfriend/boyfriend/dog/cat/turtle/imaginary Aunt Mildred that you were cutting onions beforehand. You wipe them away but it only makes it worse, the flood of human sorrow spewing from your face. And then, as you weep into your bag of Sour Patch Kids, hoping the sour will take away the pain, that these gummy children will remember you after you’re gone and please, god, don’t let me die alone… the movie actually begins.
This movie is a fairly odd thing. Throughout the thing it employs fridge logic…meaning, you accept it long enough, until you walk to get another drink and you think ‘Hey…wait a sec’. Por example: Muntz begins the film at around age, let’s say, 25. And that’s being generous. He leaves and explores the wilderness to be confronted, let’s say, fifty years later…and he’s still able to swing a fucking claymore and stop himself from falling off a blimp with one hand. Did he discover the fountain of fucking youth? At age sixty? And, if so, why the fuck does he still care about a bird?
Also! The bird has babies…doesn’t that entail a male bird to be present? You know, recently in order to impregnate said bird? Also! The dogs yell ‘squirrel’. There are no squirrels in the rainforest! How the fuck do they know what a squirrel is? Unless, Muntz has been training them Clockwork Orange-style to despise the little nut-gobbling bastards.
But…it doesn’t matter. I know, that’s hard to swallow, like a butter-covered cue ball (I’ve tried with moderate success), but it’s true. It doesn’t matter. This is a kid’s story where the central plot point is that a man flies his house to South America (it’s like America, but South!). Realism doesn’t really hold any traction in this world of whimsey and prune-juice. I could write to the folks at Pixar, listing my complaints in an orderly fashion. I know their response: “Get a soul, dickbag. Sincerely, Us.” And they would be right. These are the fantasies that dragged us through Elementary School, Middle School, High School…come to think of it, just school in general. These were the tales that, as we dreaded heading back in because we know Mary-Ellen will be there, you know the girl who laughed at you when you asked her out that one time and then told everyone about it, you could hide within, folding back the crayon-scraped walls and protect yourself with layers of illusion and fantasy. These are the tales that, no matter how dark they dip, they will always find the light at the end of the tunnel.
Sometimes we don’t need movies to challenge us. Sometimes we don’t need movies to drag us into an intellectual pit of despair, a cranial hell-scape where emotion is pitted against humanity and Tina Turner screams ‘Two parts of your soul enter, one part leaves“. Sometimes we need these movies. They’re a blanket we can slip into at night, warm and safe, the prelude to a dream. Sometimes we need the movies that put their arms around us and tell us that it gets better. Sometimes we don’t need Mr. Herzog blathering about the inevitability of nothingness but rather that sometimes good things happen to good people.
Up is a movie that brings such bounteous joy upon every viewing. As those balloons break forth from the confines of the house, dragging Carl out of his worn and tired existence, tossing him headfirst into the adventure he’d been waiting his life to taste, you can’t help but smile. And when he finally reaches his end, the house perched atop the waterfall, and discovers that perhaps its not as sweet as he thought, that Ellie isn’t coming back, the tears come again. They tumble and spray, they trickle and explode. As the music swells and his fingers trip across the pages of the life he’d lost… he discovers his wife’s final words telling him exactly what he needed at the end… You can call it trite. You can call it cliche. Or you can shut the fuck up and watch. You can be a little kid again, dragged through the magical world of blissful impossibility you’ve been searching for and haven’t even witnessed in years.
I know a man who would say those things. A guy who would probably read this, scoff and go, “You’re fucking mental.” A man who berated me when I declared The Departed better than the people-pointing-guns-at-each-other-on-rooftops-while-yelling-in-Japanese original Infernal Affairs. A man who screamed in my face on the car ride to my sister’s wedding because I declared 300 a misogynistic piece of shit.
I knew a man.
I think he liked Up. I think. I don’t remember. I don’t think we ever discussed it. He loved movies as much as I did. Perhaps more, if you can believe it. He was a writer, a reader, a thinker, a dreamer, a berater, a yeller and one hell of an arguer. English as fuck. He was a man who had more passion in his fucking fingertip than most people our age have in their entire body.
Sometimes you don’t need Herzog. Or Von Trier. Or Bergman. Sometimes you just need a blanket, wrapped tight. Warm. Safe.
I hope somewhere you have a phone and you can read this, Mike. And I hope you have Bovril. Lord help the bastard who tries to take either away. And I hope they have Dolby Surround and a widescreen as well, because The Avengers is amazing.