29. Mr. Fredrickson’s Face
I just saw Up.
Some background, for those of you who aren’t familiar with my habits: I never, ever see movies. I had a panic attack in the middle of Star Trek and had to leave. I couldn’t even take Wolverine. So when I asked Big Boy David to go to the movies with me today, he burst into grateful tears of joy.
I cried throughout the whole second half. As we left the theater, one of the kids sitting in front of us loudly said, “I thought that was supposed to be a happy movie.” But it’s such a beautiful, beautiful work of art – in every way.
The aesthetics of the movie are really gorgeous. The animators worked in lens flares, unique photographic framing and just some really, really pretty pictures. Pretty plants, pretty bird, pretty everything. But what really got me, of course, was the story.
I love stories that (whether by the intention of the creator or not) address the ephemerality of life. To me, the beauty of life hides in the delicate moments that must disappear – a green caterpillar crawling on a stick, or a short story that focuses on an especially subtly poignant day in a character’s life. The reason that I love short stories as an art form is because they so easily lean to the ephemeral – they describe a moment, it passes, and the story is over, hanging in the breath of one’s mind.
Up was the story of Mr. Carl Fredrickson. It was the story of his time with a wife he loved dearly, her death, and then his adventure with a little boy, a dog and a crazy South American bird. It was the story of his dreams, and how he either held them or let them go. His house represented the memory of his dead wife, held up by balloons – thin pieces of latex filled with air. They popped, in heat, they lost helium over time, and eventually, they left the house all alone. Balloons are, of course, ephemeral, a fragile string tied to Fredrickson’s dreams and memories.
The ending is supposed to be happy. Russell, the little boy Fredrickson befriends, comes home to his mom, a new family of dogs and a loving father figure. But in between the Disney-happy-ending tropes were woven such beautiful threads of loss and fragility. Russell has to leave his friend Kevin, a bird from Paradise Falls. And one can’t help but recognize that Mr. Fredrickson is old, and will die too. Doug, the dog, isn’t a new Dad for Russell, even though he’s fun. And he won’t last forever. And finally, Russell is going to have to grow up. One day, he won’t care as much for the whimsy of the house-led-by-balloons, or eating ice cream on the curb with Mr. Fredrickson. One day, Russell will care more about getting laid than getting his last Wilderness Explorer badge. And that – for me – was the true beauty of the movie. It left us at a point where we had to imagine a shaky, ephemeral future that we could only hope was going to be good. No guarantees, nothing concrete. Just a moment of joy within Russell, Mr. Fredrickson and Doug’s lives – a moment in the now. All we can really hope for.