Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #15

Re: Up (2009)

I’ve read a lot of reviews of Up, but I don’t think I have heard anyone addressing this particular issue [spoiler warning]. When Carl lifts up his house for his trip to Central America, he severs his home’s plumbing and electricity. He makes it clear that he doesn’t have any more balloons or helium. He can’t go back. He only has the food he keeps in the house, and he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to find more edibles in the jungle (and he certainly isn’t prepared to hunt). If he has a medical emergency, there is no doctor or hospital for maybe hundreds of miles. That leads to one conclusion: Carl is going to South America to die.

Carl is clearly really healthy for his age (evidenced by all the physical activity he performs), but if he did succeed in moving his house to the cliffs, he would probably only have a few weeks before he died, probably of starvation. This journey is not just an adventure, it’s a suicide mission.

I think that the heart of the story lies in Russell (and also Doug’s) ability to make Carl come alive once more. Once Carl realizes that he has a responsibility to others besides himself, Carl realizes that he has to fight to stay alive.

I would like to make some comments on your final thoughts on the great metaphor that is Carl’s house. I think that in making the journey, Carl is trying to write the last chapter of his life, and the love story between himself and Ellie. By ripping it from the ground and disconnecting all pipes and wires, he has deliberately rendered it impossible to live in for very long. He has tried to draw the curtain on his life, but Russell and Doug draw it back again, and for the first time since Ellie’s death, Carl has someone to live for — thank goodness.

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Your logic regarding the survivability of Carl’s situation is of course impeccable. It reminds me of a virtual friend’s brilliant online analysis describing Carl’s mission as a “burial quest,” possibly akin to The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

I think it’s reasonable to say [spoiler warning] that Carl is ready to die in South America, however imminent or remote a passing that might be. I’m not sure I want to call Carl’s quest a “suicide mission,” though. To my mind, that seems to suggest either that Carl actually wants to die, or at least that he expects to die in the very act of carrying out his mission.

I don’t think Carl wants to die. It’s just that there is something he has to do before he dies. There is a way he does not want his life to end, and a way that he can (so to speak) live with it ending — a Nunc dimittis consummation after which he can die happy.

The main thing for Carl is that to allow the home that was his whole life with Ellie to be taken from him — from them — and destroyed, and to be escorted away in defeat to the Shady Oaks retirement home would be, in his mind, to fail Ellie one last time. It is more than he can bear. He will not surrender the home they loved, will not allow their life together to begin and end in that lonely spot.

I wouldn’t say that Carl has “deliberately” rendered his house unlivable. Knowingly done so, yes. But that was a side effect — it wasn’t the point. The point was to do what he had to do. If, per impossibile, there were some way to have the plumbing and wiring reconnected in Venezuela, I see no reason to think Carl wouldn’t have it done.

It does seem plausible to say that Carl has no particular thought for the future. And yes, having Russell (and Dug) come into his life does give him a new reason to live — which is part of the reason why Shady Oaks is no longer an unthinkable fate. Of course, the other reason is that he did what he had to do.

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