Happy belated Valentine’s Day, readers! In honor of this “holiday”, I’ve decided to talk today about a movie with a love story. And as I was thinking of which movie to share with you, I realized: I don’t see a lot of romantic movies. I have all the movies I own stacked across a shelf above my desk, and looking through them, I realized that most of the potential romantic movies were either not really romantic movies, or I had talked about them already—or I’m waiting until the opportune time to talk about them.
But in the end, I decided on “Up”. Recently there’s been a picture going around Facebook with a picture of Carl and Ellie, the couple in the movie, with a caption underneath that goes something like this: “‘Up’ created a better love story in ten minutes than ‘Twilight’ created in four books.” I can’t attest to that, because thankfully, I haven’t had to watch the “Twilight” movies for any reason yet. But still, “Up” is a sweet part-romantic, part-adventure, and all-emotional film that I continue to think was the best film of 2009. (Even better than “The Hurt Locker” from a few weeks ago!)
“Up”, as you may know, was created by Pixar Animation Studios, the same geniuses who made “Toy Story”, “A Bug’s Life”, and “WALL•E”, all of which I’ve talked about on “Reel Christianity”. And the movie starts with young Carl Frederickson, a boy inspired by legendary explorer Charles Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer), who has devoted his life to exploring Paradise Falls in South America for a rare bird. One day, as Carl is playing, he meets a girl in the neighborhood who is as adventurous as he. Her name is Ellie, and as children, they make a promise to one day go to Paradise Falls together.
And through a five-minute silent montage, we see one of the most beautiful movie love stories of this century as Carl and Ellie grow up, get married, buy the old house that they met in, get ready to have children, discover that they cannot have children, work at a zoo where Carl makes balloons, get flat tires, break bones, have a tree fall on their roof, and all the while collect money for Paradise Falls someday. But soon, both Carl and Ellie have grown old, and Ellie eventually develops a condition where she has to be hospitalized. And before she finally passes away, she gives Carl the scrapbook she made as a girl of the plans she has for Paradise Falls.
Some time later, we see Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) alone as his neighborhood is being developed by construction workers into a city, but Carl is stubborn. He talks to Ellie all the time (looking up at the sky or at her picture in his house), tries to drive kids like Russell (Jordan Nagai) away when they try to interact with him, and refuses to move from his house to a retirement community. But after some trouble, Carl is forced by the construction workers to finally move away. And he does. But not to the retirement home. Still committed to going to South America, he decides to tie what I guess is a few hundred balloons to his furnace, sticking out the chimney and eventually lifting his house off the ground and into the air!
But Carl’s plan immediately goes different than expected when he discovers Russell, the local Boy Scout trying to get his “assisting-the-elderly” merit badge, on his porch. He reluctantly lets Russell in (because, you know, what else is he supposed to do?), and after the two of them drive the house through a bad storm, they find themselves on one side of a canyon. And on the other side? Paradise Falls, of course! So Carl and Russell start their journey to take the house across the canyon to Paradise Falls, just as Carl promised Ellie so long ago.
But on the way, of course, they run into problems. Russell goes off on his own at one point to find a very tall bird which he names Kevin, and the bird continues to follow the two around. As they go on, they also run into Dug, a dog with a speaking collar so that Dug can communicate. It turns out that Dug is one of many talking dogs on the island that are looking for Kevin (who is, of course, that rare bird that Charles Muntz was looking for all those years). But Russell convinces Carl that Kevin needs to return to her babies (yeah, they realize later that Kevin is actually a female bird…), so they decide to do that before more talking dogs find Dug and the humans and take them to their leader: Charles Muntz.
And at first, Muntz is welcoming to them, seeing how they couldn’t be out to find the bird before he. But when Russell accidentally mentions that they found Kevin, Muntz starts to suspect, and the two of them have to escape Muntz’s hiding place with the help of Kevin and Dug. Eventually, before Kevin can get back to her babies, Muntz captures her and plans to take her back to America. He does this by beginning to set Carl’s house on fire, and while Carl puts out the fire, Muntz captures her. Because of this, Russell and Carl develop more tension than ever before, and even though Carl eventually gets his house to Paradise Falls, Russell refuses to associate with him.
So Carl is left sitting in his house, finally at Paradise Falls, but he is not happy. And to cheer up a little, he takes out Ellie’s scrapbook of pictures of Paradise Falls. But before he closes the book, he notices: there’s more in the book that he hasn’t seen before. So he keeps flipping through the pages and sees that Ellie had put in pictures of their marriage over the years. At the end, she has written: “Thanks for the adventure. Now go have a new one!”
Carl reads this and decides: he has to go get Kevin. So after Russell goes off by himself with the help of some balloons to find Muntz in his blimp on his way back to America, Carl goes after his new friends, joined by Dug, and long story short, Muntz falls off his blimp, and Kevin and Russell are rescued. When they return home, Carl starts to become more of the father figure that Russell never had, and Carl’s house has a permanent place right next to Paradise Falls.
What I really want to focus on after all of that is when Carl finally gets to Paradise Falls and is looking through Ellie’s scrapbook. I think this scene really brings the love story full-circle, and heck, I picked this movie for Valentine’s Day, so I better focus on that. The way I see it, when Ellie has written, “Go have a new adventure”, it’s her reassuring Carl to move on, that they had their time together. And ultimately, that’s what Carl does, as he goes to save his new companions. In the end, this love story doesn’t end with “happily-ever-after”. It ends with the lovers letting go, and perhaps that’s the truest form of love that there is: being able to let go.
Jesus definitely talks about that when he says that we need to let go of the things of this world, including our own relationships. I’ve often cited Luke 14:26 on this site when talking about these sacrifices, where Jesus tells us: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” He later says in Luke 21:33, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Jesus is telling us that even if we love another person, we have to be willing to let go of that as believers in Christ, so that nothing holds us back from doing what God calls us to do.
My prayer for you today is that whatever loves you have—for your hobbies, for your friendships, even for a significant other—you would be willing to put God before all of those, so that you may be able to serve Him wholeheartedly.