The Path to Awakening and Disney's "UP"


Last evening I saw Disney and Pixar’s new hit movie “Up” in 3D and realized about the middle of the way in that I was watching a story of full awakening; enlightenment for kids AND their parents.
First I want to warn any readers that this review may contain details about the film that you may not want to know prior to your own viewing of it – so please know that you have been “officially” warned!
Up is the story of Carl Fredrickson (Ed Asner’s voice). The movie begins in his quaint hometown. He is a lover of adventure, although there is no real adventure in his life. Instead, he projects his love for exploration onto the flashy explorer Charles Muntz who is featured heroically on the movie shorts popularly in the 1930s. We can think of Muntz as Carl’s guru, his spiritual guide. To Carl’s alarm, Muntz is accused of fakery when his partial skeleton of an unknown species of bird is judged as fake. This foreshadows Carl’s need to fall out of love with sources of power external to himself.
Carls falls in love with Ellie, a dynamic tomboy. They share their thrill of adventure and make plans to venture to a mysterious and vast waterfall in the heart of Venezuela. Ellie (sluggish Carl’s dynamic alter ego) bestows on Carl her official medal that he too is an adventurer. The only problem is that the thrill of exploration is the one thing that our rather stodgy Carl doesn’t engage in. Like all seekers, Carl lives in the dream of exploration and not in its living essence. Ellie and Carl get married and live in quiet bliss, and unadventurous love. The years pass and eventually, Ellie dies peacefully. Their dream of trekking to the great waterfall remains a dream (for this is Carl’s journey to make). Their relationship is told in a most poignant and heartfelt way and is one of the great strengths of this movie.

Carl and Russell

Carl and Russell

The waterfall is Carl’s projected visualization of enlightenment. This is the place that could have given Ellie and he happiness and it remains unattained.
Carl lives his life as an old grump alone in the house that Ellie and he built long ago. Meanwhile, a great city has grown up around them and the corporate developers need to have Carl and the house removed. Carl as grouch strikes one of the developers on the head and is forced to go to court where he it is ordered that Carl must vacate his home (his unawakened self) and to be placed into a generic retirement home, the very fate the quietly still seeking Carl fears the most. This fear is the fear of being just one of the many; ordinary and unawakened, dying alone with this dream unrealized.
Meanwhile, Carl is pestered by a young boy scout named Russell who has targeting Carl as his ticket to getting his final merit badge; namely helping the elderly. Carl, of course, shoes him away with angry irritation.
Carl evades the courts and the deathly retirement home by attaching a vast flotilla of helium balloons to his home. His plan is to steer the magically floating house to mysterious South America where he can finally realize his dream of adventureand discovery. But to his considerable consternation, Russell has snuck onto his porch and the two adversaries are forced together on the adventure.
As they rise into the clouds they leave the land of the predictable and humdrum and enter the world of mystery and transformation. The floating house represents Carl’s unmooring from this well established roots. He is now set afloat in the uncertain and unknown. This is the journey of awakening where the ties to the material life need, at some point, to be severed.
But on many levels Carl is still tied to his old, stodgy and sentimental life. His home is full of mementoes from his time with his beloved Ellie. These objects of his past are very dear to him and how they are arranged and honored in his home is very important to him.
I don’t want to tell the whole story, but Carl and Russell make it to near his dreamed of waterfall. A long trek, full of obstacles still confronts them. Here in this unearthly place, Carl is unexpectedly reunited with this projected guru Muntz and needs to learn the very harsh lesson that Muntz is nothing but pure ego in love with only himself and willing to kill and destroy anything that comes between him and his goal; that of re-establishing the adoring admiration he once possessed. Carl also needs to cut the remainder of his ties to his old stodgy life and is compelled to throw away with all of the symbols that connected him with that life.
He must find himself and that is exactly what he does. His fearfulness becomes fearlessness. His thinking about life, becomes immediate and decisive action in life. His self-styled isolation blossoms into connection with all of life. His journey in the mysterious lands around the waterfall shows him the falseness of putting idols on pedestals. Instead of just discovering exotic lands, he discovers the love that binds all of life together. Where he was once only capable of loving Ellie, he now can see beauty everywhere. Even the revered waterfall becomes something irrelevant – all that matters is his own unforced and unplanned awakening to fullness of being that he ultimately achieves. Near the end of the film, even Ellie’s ancient medal of honor must be given away to his beloved Russell (perhaps the child he never had).
“Up” is a funny, fascinating, and ultimately, beautiful film. And, I didn’t mention the best part – the language of dogs – it’s hysterical.
See the trailer by clicking on this line.


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  1. #1 by slamdunk on June 1, 2009 - 1:26 pm

    Good write-up about the film. We are excited to go see it soon.

  2. #2 by Ariel Bravy on June 1, 2009 - 2:04 pm

    Thanks for sharing this writeup and perspective about the movie Eric. I’m excited to see this one as well! 🙂

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