Warning: contains movie background more than movie spoilers...
It started with an emailed warning: Pixar's new movie, Up, contains a scene that depicts either pregnancy loss or infertility. It continued with posts--both embracing Disney for sensitively portraying the inability to build a family and condemning Disney for introducing yet another topic that parents don't wish to cover with their kids. Finally, I went to see it for myself.
And I sobbed.
Perhaps I cried because I had my period when I walked into the theater. Or I may have cried because I was anxious in knowing that my emotional buttons were going to be pushed. I was on edge through the short film that came before the main feature that showed how babies are created on clouds. But I think I cried because Pixar did such a fantastic job with the topic and it touched me so deeply, especially when you can't help but project your own life onto the screen and lay it over Carl and Ellie's.
The topic is tackled both in the first few minutes of the movie and then subtly throughout, in such a way that adults will pick up on the hidden messages whereas children will most likely gloss over the fact that the couple is childless. And since reading all the blog posts about it, it seems as if many have missed the fact that infertility is covered throughout--much like infertility or loss which is not neatly contained in the moment, but affects the way you see the world from that point on.
Carl and Ellie, childhood sweethearts, promise to go on adventures with one another when they're older. After getting married, they start dreaming of their life together as they are lying together on a blanket outside, and their music-scored dreams include visions of babies.
They are shown painting a nursery and preparing for a baby and then for a brief moment, we see them in a doctor's office, with Ellie crying into her hands and her husband rubbing her shoulders while they both face the doctor. Afterwards, we see Ellie sitting outside, her eyes closed and she projects a deep sadness that still has me crying as I write this.
Because who hasn't sat still with the diagnosis, after all the tears are gone, and felt like there was no movement in the eye of the storm? In a film about movement--aptly named Up--she is sitting motionless. And finally, they begin moving again, planning out a life of adventure that never quite takes place as they planned, but like all the unplanned moments in life, is even better than Carl could see as it happened. It took, once again, a moment of not moving; of sitting still in a chair, to see how much adventure and happiness and joie de vivre he had in his life with Ellie--even if it wasn't how they hoped.
Infertility keeps playing out later in the film when Carl encounters a little boy whose father doesn't appreciate his child. It's interesting that the people up in arms mention the opening montage, because this is the part of the movie where I thought the infertility dynamic came more into play. Who hasn't felt bitterness in seeing a parent obviously not parenting their child when you are unable to build your family? And in the end, it comes back to a truism that anyone child-free after infertility knows quite well: there is the family you are raised with and the family you choose; and while all are familiar with fictive kin in the form of brothers or sisters, we also may form fictive kin with children.
It is easy to tell when his past is informing his present because the character literally stops moving. After the diagnosis, Ellie sits still in the chair. After he hears about how the boy's father isn't parenting him, Carl stops walking. When he is remembering Ellie and the life they thought they'd have, he sits. It is easy to see how often infertility subtly plays out in the film if you count the number of times the characters pause from movement, a very clever way of showing the stagnation of infertility or loss in a movie that is entirely about directional movement.
Like Punch Drunk, I disagree with the commenters on that post who think that loss or infertility has no place in a Pixar film. As DD states: "Who knew having a miscarriage was so…offensive? So…disgusting and ugly and ironically, so child- and family-UNfriendly, whereas (spoiler alert) the old man falling to his death from his dirigible after his failed attempt to cut the old hero in two with a sword was perfectly sanitary."
Personally, I'm thankful that Pixar finally gave my children a vision of a family grappling with infertility. Our losses took place before the twins arrived, and while they know why we light a candle in the house on October 15th each year, I don't think they understand that we're not the only people who had trouble building our family. Unlike parental death in Finding Nemo or the idea that there are people out there who want to hurt you (in every Disney film), this was presented in such a way that families in the know will appreciate the ability to use it as a jumping board for discussion and those who have thankfully had no trouble with family building will miss this point entirely.
What was your take on Pixar's Up?
Cross-posted with BlogHer