Msnowe's Blog

The Downside of Pointing Up

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on July 4, 2009
Wait--I think I see a Female!

Wait--I think I see a Female!

m.snowe is no seasoned movie critic, however, she left the theater with an unsure feeling after seeing UP.  One thing m.snowe wasn’t questioning was the effectiveness of the movie itself–it was entertaining and to some extent, (m.snowe cringes to admit) moving. The Pixar people know how to make a movie visually pleasing, and their knack for picking crazy, eclectic stories that actually work for mainstream audiences verges on the occult.


But here’s the rub–how much should we like a finished product, when said product combines good presentation and gratuitous emotional lubrication to slide hackneyed, pre-sexual-revolution values down our throats?



First off, there is  a ~15-minute montage of the main (male) character Carl’s life, starting with when and how he met his wife when they were both children. His future wife, Ellie, is everything a rambunctious kid should be–she’s  adventurous, talkative, bright, happy, and physically active. Once the characters establish their friendship, the montage is set to music and the characters cease speaking, and we see the progression of their lives together as a couple.  But it was a very, very traditional life–as if the writers had taken Walt Disney’s head out of the freezer and asked him to plot out the story–the good wife straightening her husband’s tie as he goes off to work, the good wife cooking, etc. Haven’t we evolved past the housewife model for our married couples?



The only two women characters in the story are decidedly the catalysts for the male action (the two older male characters, anyway). Both of the men believe (wrongly) that attaining some end goal will either please themselves or the women they’ve thrown upon a pedestal. But this is the problem. Catalysts and revered people in this movie don’t have their own voices–they are simply drivers that the true characters invoke in order to do what they want. They are being exploited. In fact, the only time in the movie that Ellie has a speaking line is in her childhood–even though we see the entire progression of her life. Carl speaks for her, and as the ending of the movie proves (in a sappy way) he mischaracterizes. Also, the only time Ellie “appears” unhappy is when we are clued into the fact that she cannot have children. Clearly, that would be any woman’s only disappointment in life. Right.



M.snowe couldn’t help but feel transported back to the time she read David Copperfield as she left the theater and threw out her 3D glasses for UP—both were flat, and two-dimensional despite their best efforts, and both were Bildungsromans that ended with a similar protagonist self-realization. The main similarity has to do with the female characters of Ellie in Up and Agnes in Copperfield. Both are these shadowy, yet instinctively strong women that are invoked to lead the male protagonist to some enlightenment, yet they never get a true voice of their own. And the line that sticks out the most, and speaks volumes of both Carl’s and David’s (mis)understanding of their female companions is this:

“O Agnes, O my soul, so may thy face be by me when I close my life indeed; so may I, when realities are melting from me, like the shadows which I now dismiss, still find thee near me, pointing upward!”

 He sets up Agnes as some godlike creature, “pointing upward,” because she clearly knows better than David, and is the “domestic angel” of his dreams…but her role in life (i.e. the book, and in Ellie’s case, the movie) is only to point–not to live. Living a fun, varied, sometimes messy life is left to the men.


So the wrap up: Enlightening as UP is, and as moral-inducing as it is for the main male characters, m.snowe can’t get over the fact that these good lessons are learned at the expense of the female characters who aren’t even allowed a voice. The woman serves as an example of the idea that “real adventures” need not be what you initially dreamed, and that domestic happiness is just as pleasing as a future of discovery and daring. Excuse me, but have we crash landed upon the 1950’s? Although Pixar hasn’t been consciously picking male-dominated movies on purpose (hopefully!), it would be nice if they entertained an ingenious story of a feisty woman character. Because there must be some out there…