Carl gets the house to the top of Paradise Falls, but it’s a Pyrrhic victory.

Today: The 2009 movie Up, screenplay by Bob Peterson and Pete Docter, story by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson and Thomas McCarthy. IMDB plot summary:

To avoid being taken away to a nursing home, an old widower tries to fly his home to Paradise Falls, South America, along with a Boy Scout who accidentally lifted off with him.

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Carl (Ed Asner) has achieved his Want: To transport the house he and Ellie shared to Paradise Falls.

Normally, if you mention the words “great scene” and the movie Up in one sentence, people will immediately chime in with this:

Yes, that is stellar storytelling, but the mini-story of Carl and Ellie’s married life is a setup for the scene I have spotlighted above. Carl has made it. He’s fulfilled his promise to Ellie. He has achieved his Conscious Goal.

However, it is a Pyrrhic victory, filled with emptiness, a reality visualized by the shots chosen in the scene. No sound. Lots of space. And the lonely presence of Ellie’s chair.

Then the picture book. It is a little story itself told in three parts:

Beginning: Carl flips through photos of he and Ellie as children.
Emotion: Sadness his wife is not here to experience her dream realized.

Turn: Carl discovers new photos.

Middle: Carl examines photos of his marriage through their adult years.
Emotion: Surprise tinged with sadness.

Turn: “Thanks for the adventure — now go have a new one! Love, Ellie”

End: Carl holds Russell’s merit badge, looks at Ellie’s chair… crosses his heart.
Emotion: Resolve to go have a new adventure.

Such a fantastic scene because in effect — from beyond the grave — Ellie has given Carl her blessing to be with a new member of the ‘family’: Russell. Functionally, he is a surrogate for Ellie and now when Carl crosses his heart, he is making a new pledge, a new Want: To retrieve Russell. Which sets up the rest of Act Three.

I adore this movie. How about you?

If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!

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To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here.

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