Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Up...or down?

WARNING: This entry contains spoilers for the film "Up". If you haven't seen it, and intend to, please wait to read this until after you've seen it.


My mother is not a woman who tolerates sad endings. An ardent fan of comedies with sly, accessible humor and trashy romance novels in which a man with rippling triceps hoists the heroine onto his Victorian steed for an evening of wine and roses, she doesn't enjoy pain or loss in her recreational time. Upon seeing City of Angels in 1998, which was advertised as nearly a romantic comedy but ended up being a devastatingly sad movie, my mother got up after the closing credits, wiping tears and non-waterproof mascara from her eyes, and sang derisively..."That's entertainment." When ER would kill a child or other endearing character off, as hospital dramas sometimes have to for the sake of plot, she'd get indignant, even angry with the writers for their gall. Even worse, if one of her tried and true comedic favorites would take a sad turn in their storyline, she viewed this as the ultimate betrayal; she looked to these types of shows as an escape from the trials and tribulations of her everyday life, to find her place in the chorus of pre-recorded laughter of sitcoms in the 80s and 90s. Perhaps in response to the unpredictable nature of these obviously fictitious shows, she has taken a remarkable fancy to reality TV...she finds solace in Survior, The Amazing Race and The Biggest Loser, where the worst thing that can happen to the participants of the show is that they don't lose as much weight as they would have liked before being sent home. Likewise, she is completely intolerant of scary or gory movies. "Life is scary enough, thankyouverymuch".

I, on the other hand, enjoy being moved across the emotional spectrum by the books, films, shows and music I choose to indulge in. Requiem for a Dream is one of my favorite films, though admittedly I don't watch it often because it induces suicidal bouts of ice cream eating and depression. I'm a fan of tragedies, an admirer of horror, a student of the heartbreaking realities of life and the people who live it. I'd always prefer to laugh, of course, but life isn't always funny and my entertainment preferences reflect that appreciation of reality.

My girlfriend, RW (RedWolf), and I went to see the new Pixar film Up Monday night. A delighted, chatty crowd of college students off for the summer crowded into the aged Prytania theater to see it with us, donning comedically big 3-D glasses and gobbling down popcorn like the government had just declared it an illicit substance. The raucous crowd commented loudly during the previews, cheering for the Harry Potter trailer and reacting audibly to the Pixar short, Partly Cloudy, that preceded the film. Within the first 10 minutes of Up, however, there wasn't a dry eye in the house, and the young crowd was stone silent for the remainder of the film, save for laughter at appropriate times.

Up is a powerful film, a sad film, with a tried and true message that life is what happens while we are planning, that sometimes the real adventure happens everyday, not when you go to great lengths and expense to artificially create one. It tells the story of an elderly widower named Carl Frederickson who never managed to take the adventure he and his wife wanted, and his pursuit of that endeavor after her death. It's lush and colorful, and took full advantage of every 3-D trick the wizards at Disney and Pixar could employ. It's laugh-out-loud funny, by all accounts, but also heartbreaking at turns. I was haunted throughout the entire film by the opening sequence, which features a 2-minute segment exploring the couple's lives together (where their attempts at "adventure" and even parenting never comes to fruition) and the wife's subsequent death. It's an opening filled with regret and loss, pain and resignation, which moved even my stoic, social working girlfriend to unabashed tears. That sort of plotline accomplished what the writers wanted...the audience cares about Carl's adventure and understands his motivation, but my reaction, and I believe the rest of the audience's reaction, was not one of pride and wonder, but sadness and sympathy. We felt empathy for a character who has suffered a devastating loss and is in the throes of unmitigated grief. Carl talks to her as if she's there, even in front of other characters in the film, and dives for her portrait when the flying house gets caught in a fierce storm instead of his young companion, Russell, who clearly needs looking after. These are the desperate actions of someone who needs more than this adventure to truly heal, to go on with his life without achingly missing his beloved and deceased partner at every turn. The ending, for me, was little comfort. Carl becomes a father figure to the single-parented and neglected Russell, and master of the talking dog, Dug. While I have never lost a spouse, I have suffered the loss of loved ones and was left with the familiar taste of devastation in my mouth after this movie.

Even after the film had ended, and RW and I got to her car, my hardened girlfriend was crying. I thought the lingering sadness I was still feeling was only my own distorted reaction to a harmless, good film; that perhaps I had forgotten to take my anti-depressants or maybe even that I was PMSing. But when I saw the surprised anguish on her face, I realized this film was NOT what we thought it would be.

Art should move you. It should provoke a reaction, be it anger or amusement, but I must admit, sadness isn't what I expected out of this film. Pixar has a history of making smart, adult-appealing films that feature heart-wrenching tales of love and loss, but this was different. Maybe my march towards my becoming my mother has quickened its pace, but I hope they make me laugh more and cry less next time. That's entertainment.

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