It’s hard to find movies for adults that adequately deal with the death of a spouse and putting one’s life back together. Fortunately, one of the movies nominated for the Best Picture Oscar does a great job of dealing with the subjects of death, grief, and moving on better than any other film in recent memory—and its target audience is kids.
The movie? “Up.”
In the first 20 minutes of the film, we see Carl Fredricksen as a boy meeting his future wife, Ellie. When they grow up, they both want to become explorers and journey to faraway lands. Ellie shows Carl her adventure book that contains a few notes and drawings of things she’s done. Most of the pages in the book are blank, and Ellie tells Carl that she’s going to fill the rest of book with photos of all the exciting things she’s going to do.
Then the audience is taken on a short silent movie journey of their life. They get married and start careers. They decide to have a family only to find out she’s infertile. Though the news is tough to swallow, they both decide to keep working and save their pennies for a trip to Paradise Falls in South America. But as the years pass, they keep raiding their savings to pay for car repairs and other life emergencies. They grow old, and one day Carl realizes that they’ve never taken the trip they dreamed about. He throws caution to the wind and buys tickets to Paradise Falls. Only they never make the trip. As he’s about to surprise his wife with the plane tickets, she falls ill and dies.
The next time we see Carl, he’s a grumpy widower. Fed up with life and facing a court-ordered placement in a retirement home, he decides he’s had enough. As a former balloon salesman, he rigs his Victorian house with thousands of balloons and launches it into the sky, determined to finally visit Paradise Falls. The only complication to his trip is that Russell, a neighborhood kid and wilderness explorer, has unwittingly come along for the ride too.
During the journey to the falls, the Victorian house becomes the symbol for Ellie. Not only does the house contain photographs and other reminders of Ellie and Carl’s life together but, at various points in the journey, Carl looks up at the house and talks to it, wondering what Ellie would say if only she were there with him.
As he travels with Russell, the house becomes more of a hindrance than a help. Carl’s so determined to take the house to Paradise Falls that he’s unable to form a relationship with Russell or even think about getting them both home safely. At times, Carl seems more concerned about damage the house receives than the danger that he and Russell find themselves in.
Carl doesn’t realize how much the house is holding him back until he finds himself browsing through Ellie’s adventure book. As he turns the pages, he’s surprised to discover that the blank pages she showed him years ago are filled with pictures of his and Ellie’s life together. Suddenly Carl realizes that even though he and Ellie were never able to visit the Paradise Falls together, they did have a wonderful, fulfilling life as husband and wife. It doesn’t matter that they never got to visit the falls together—the real adventure in life was the years spent with Ellie.
Armed with this new insight, Carl is able to literally let go of the house in order to get he and Russell home safely. He’s able to move on with his life and start a new and fulfilling chapter. It’s a message that anyone who’s struggling to move on after the death of a spouse could use.
Don’t let this beautifully animated film trick you into thinking it’s for kids only. There’s plenty in the film to keep kids entertained but with its unique plot and adept handling of more “grown up” issues, this life-affirming film deserves the Best Picture of the year award and is the new high-water mark in movies that deal with grief and the loss of a spouse.Tags: grief, hope