Posted Thursday, June 11, 2009, at 10:57 PM
Seeing Pixar's Up reminded me of the power of images to say what words cannot-and especially of the power of film to convey how fleeting and mysterious a lifespan is. Buried in this children's flick is one of the most moving sequences about grief and mourning I have ever seen in a film. Over in Slate, I've been writing about how hard it is to find expressions of grief or mourning that feel equivalent to the actual experience of bereavement. Up contains one of them. I actually had to leave in tears halfway through. The sequence comes at the opening (small spoiler alert) when the film tells the story of a boy and a girl who meet-cute through their love of old-style adventurers: We watch as the shy boy, adorned in aviation goggles, wanders into the clubhouse of an outspoken girl (also wearing goggles) and gets teased into falling in love (and falling from a shaky attic rafter after a botched attempt to be brave). The film then speeds through a montage of their life together, repeatedly returning to their dream of going to the sublime Paradise Falls in South America. It's a relatively modest fantasy that, like so many in life, is never achieved. They age, and then one day the wife grows ill; we glimpse as she spends the end of her days in bed looking at a book she made as a child, with Paradise Falls on the cover and pages dedicated to "Stuff I'm Going To Do." We presume these pages are empty, because those particular adventures never were had. There's another adventure that was never had: the adventure of having children; she had a miscarriage and, it seems, cannot bear more children. When she dies, she leaves behind a lonely husband bent on guarding the home they built together. Every day, he touches his hand to a handprint she made on their mailbox when they first moved in. Every day, he talks to her portrait on the wall. We witness the abiding intimacy of grief.
In a culture remarkably averse to facing the enduring reality of bereavement (and averse, too, to the depiction of what it's like to grow old), Up has done exactly what the overhyped Curious Case of Benjamin Button failed to accomplish. It's encapsulated the mystery and the monumentality of two tiny lives, and made you feel, in their disruption, the dislocation all of us will some day feel. It's not exactly uplifting, but it is inspiring.