In Pixar's <i>Up</i>, Two Chairs Mean the World (SPOILERS)

I never thought I'd cry while wearing 3-D glasses.
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I never thought I'd cry while wearing 3-D glasses. Then I saw Up.

Spoilers ahead. And I'm going to assume you know the basic plot points.

My favorite image in the film is the sight of Carl and Ellie's chairs sitting on a cliff by Paradise Falls. We see them from Carl's point of view as he floats away, and we know both how it kills him to leave them behind and why he absolutely must let them go.

We know these things because of the movie's remarkable storytelling.

Carl and Ellie's relationship, for instance, gets richly defined in a wordless opening montage that balances scenes of enormous joy with the kind of pointless moments that don't mean anything until you reflect on them and realize how intimate they were. Plus, we see moments of heartbreak---the day Ellie and Carl learn they can't have children, the day Ellie realizes she's dying---that do as much to unite partners as happy times.

I've had all these moments in my own relationship. As I'm typing this, my partner is shuffling around our apartment getting ready for bed. We're not talking, and we're not doing anything special, but Up has reminded me how valuable this time is. Our relaxed silence is something to be treasured, and I wouldn't appreciate it nearly as much if we hadn't shared some stormy weather and some blissful highs.

How many movies, animated or not, capture all that?

Thanks to this storytelling depth, we can see Carl and Ellie's favorite chairs resting side by side at Paradise Falls and know exactly who was sitting in them. We know what Carl is leaving as his house carries him away.

But then again, we also know those chairs will be safe. They aren't in the real world, after all.

Up doesn't oversell its fantasy elements, but they're everywhere. The image of Paradise Falls that young Ellie rips from a library book, for instance, says the falls are "a place out of time." It's also no accident that if you drop the uppercase letters, "paradise falls" sounds like a reference to Eden.

Those magical markers help explain impossible things, like how explorer Charles Muntz can still be alive and strong enough to fight, even though he's easily over 100. More importantly, though, the magical ribbon woven through the story lets us see Carl's journey in non-literal terms. When he enters Paradise Falls, we know he's less in reality than at the crossroads of his life. His childhood is there (in Muntz), his marriage is there (in his house), and his potential future is there (in Russell.) With his childhood and his marriage over, he has traveled to a place where he must choose how to live from now on. Will he stay forever in his home -- in his past -- or will he head for something new?

That question is answered when we see those chairs by the falls. Sitting there, they symbolize a man moving on. Yet because the falls are a place out of time, we know the chairs will survive. Carl can leave his past without obliterating it. He can bid it a fond farewell.

And even if we cry when he waves goodbye, we can't be entirely distraught. We know that by flying off to rescue Russell, Carl is starting a fantastic new adventure.

We all spend time in liminal spaces like Paradise Falls, deciding what to keep and what to leave behind. As Carl survives pain and joy and goes right on living, we're reminded that we can choose to do the same thing.

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