Why "Up" is the New Down

Editor’s Note: You will most likely not want to read this until you’ve seen the film. You have seen the film… right?

The introduction to Pixar’s newest film, “Up,” is utterly shocking. While some of us went in expecting something “cute,” wanting to be distracted from the typical trials of everyday life, and perhaps wanting our sons and daughters to be shielded from them, others of us went in expecting to have to make an extra effort to suspend our disbelief, with the understanding that this was a movie primarily about making a house fly.

What we got instead was an opportunity to approach real life in a way that was utterly realistic and at the same time utterly hopeful. What we found was that this film was not really about a flying house at all.

Entertainment culture is dominated these days by two lenses through which to look at life: Cynicism and Naivete. Offerings such as The Daily Show, Late Night television, Angels and Demons, Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown all present a highly suspicious look at the world. They submit to the audience the suggestion that those who are supposed to be looking out for us are actually looking out for themselves. Even worse, they tend to suggest that all of life is hopeless and only useful as a means of comedy. We laugh so that we do not cry.

On the other hand, previous Disney films, romantic comedies, and the more current and specific “Night at the Museum 2″  all view the world with an absolute certainty that the glass is indeed half full. Often, conflict exists only for a short time, and only to be overcome totally and absolutely by the end of the program. They suggest that while life may not be easy, it is in fact “simple.” Evil is clearly marked as evil and good is either easily identified or simply summed up as “following your heart.”

In fact, adherants to both of these viewpoints, cynicism and naivete, suffer from a lack of complexity in the way they view life. In an effort to make sense of life, they distort it so that it fits into their own warped perspective. Reality isn’t quite ignored, but it is carefully spun.

We are these adherants. We all suffer with a displeasure and discontentment with reality as it is. The cynic in us interprets that which doesn’t go according to plan as a purely negative development. The naive in us refuses to acknowledge that our man-made plans may in fact be flawed. This is a disease none of us is immune from, and it becomes particularly pointed when Christians begin applying it to our belief about God and the way He works in the world and our lives.

This is why “Up” is such a special film. It takes both cynicism and naivete head on, and as a result rings completely and utterly true. Carl Frederickson, the archetypal old cynical man finds a friend in Russell, a classic naive Wilderness Scout. They both find that dreams don’t always come easy and aren’t always achievable, that people aren’t always easily pegged as mean or annoying. Most importantly, they learn not only that hardships, tragedies and struggles are a regular and consistent part of life, but that they are opportunity for growth, surprise, and moments of pure grace.

By the end of the film, you realize, along with the characters, just how much more rich their lives are as a result of their dreams and hopes previously being crushed, not just once, but over and over by divorce, a tree, bad health, death, a disappointing role-model, and geographical distance.

No, the story isn’t really about a flying house at all. That would be too simple, and if that was what it was about, the ending would have been very sad indeed. Of course the cynic would delight in such an ending. After all, that’s what life is really like sometimes, right? The naive would hate such an ending, preferring the old man get to where he always wanted to go.

Neither of those endings would satisfy me, because the story’s about much more than whether or not that house gets where Carl wants it to go. It’s about two characters whose lives were changed for the better… just after they were changed for the worse. That’s grace, and that’s beautiful.

About Richard Clark

Richard H. Clark is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture. He has a Master of Arts in Theology and the Arts from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, Ky. He is also the managing editor of Gamechurch and a freelance writer for Unwinnable, Paste, and other outlets.
E-mail: clarkrichardh [at] gmail [dot] com.
Twitter: @deadyetliving

  • http://www.aaronhall.com/ Minnesota Attorney

    It’s encouraging to see a cartoon tackle some of the bigger issues in life, and do it in an effective way, without seeming overbearing.

    Minnesota Attorneys last blog post..Minnesota Personal Injury Law: Uninsured Motorist Coverage

  • http://blog.skyrien.com alex

    You know, when I first watched Up (last weekend), I was extremely tired, and left slightly disappointed. ‘A great movie,’ I thought, ‘but not as good as Wall-E.”

    After reading your post, I’m beginning to think that I missed something crucial in my movie watching experience, and think I need to see it again, this time, with a full-night’s rest.

    Thanks for your post–a good reminder that I’m often as quick to judge as some movie critics out there. :)

    alexs last blog post..Social Planes…

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    Alex, I think you should definitely try again.

  • Becky Keutzer

    We just got home not long ago, I cried several times during the movie and on the way home as well. It was so good. Poignant, if you will. So many layers but easy for a child to enjoy. I slept through Wall-E, (sorry), I know many say it was superb, but I didn’t have the connection with it that I did with Up. 100 thumbs up.

  • peter bartlett

    Great write up. I commented in another article saying I would love to see an article about UP and sure enough there is already one written.

    I thought you hit on a lot of big topics from the movie, but what is so great about UP is that it isn’t as straight forward as a parable type movie like Cars or something like that.

    It would have been all too easy for Mr. Frederikson to somehow getting the house back, or having Russel’s dad actually step up to his responsibility, but by leaving those typical happy ending elements out, it reveals the beauty that can be found in life as it is.

  • Pingback: Liberty or License: Reflections on a Theology of Art | Pastor Dave Online


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