UP (2009)

Published: Aug 23, 2014 |Updated: Mar 8, 2023


Carl is a just-widowed man who lives in a house that’s about to be eaten by the tides of progress. In an effort to save it – and all the memories it holds – he takes to the skies with the help of a sea of helium balloons and heads for South America and a long-postponed adventure.

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Genre Drama
Production year 2009
Director Christopher Plummer
Male actors Edward Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai

Searching for Paradise Falls

When men’s coach Michael Taylor interviewed me on his show last year, he asked me why I had no reviews of animated movies on my website. I had no good reason for this, but was intrigued by his question and asked him what movie he would recommend I write about. His recommendation was the Disney/Pixar production “Up”.

This one’s for you, Michael.

Longing for Roraima

Carl is a young boy with big dreams. Charles Muntz, the famous and daring explorer, features prominently at their center. When we first meet Carl, he is watching a news report detailing the latest escapades of the larger-than-life explorer, eyes large with excitement.

His young boy psyche, unpolluted by the contractions of adult responsibility and “realism”, soars far and wide. Its destination? Roraima, the plateau mountain in South America where mr Muntz himself claims to have found a mysterious creature.

Young Ellie is Carl’s kindred spirit, similarly enamored with mr Muntz and the promise of adventure in exotic lands. In a love story told on speed, they fall in love, get married, and grow old together. Yet their big adventure keeps eluding them; Roraima stays an unlived dream and their much-desired child never crosses the threshold into this world.

As Ellie passes through the veils to the beyond, Carl’s heart fills with grief that his dear wife never got to live out her dreams of distant lands and motherhood.

Carl’s big adventure

Boy scout Russell is a persistent bugger. He is on a mission to get a new badge for his belt to become a “senior wilderness guide”. The missing badge is dedicated to serving the elderly and Carl, now a grumpy old man, is a fitting target. But Carl doesn’t want anybody’s help. He wants to bury himself in pain and solitude.

That desire is compromised by the urban development going on in what was once his local neighborhood. The construction company tries to buy him out, but he wants none of it. In the end, he is evicted by way of a court order.

But in the walls of this quaint wooden house reside memories of Ellie. And Carl misses his sweetheart way too much to let go.

So Carl pulls off an unlikely stunt: The former balloon salesman takes his house to the skies, using a sea of multi-colored helium balloons.

Thus begins Carl’s big adventure. Unfortunately for him, he isn’t home alone.

The apparent sweetness of co-dependency

Carl has a stowaway;  Russell is hanging on for dear life in the brisk high-altitude winds that now sweep across the porch. Carl only reluctantly lets him in, which is pretty hilarious.

One freak storm and some considerable boy scout magic later, Carl and Russel find themselves in South America, taking in the splendid sight of Roraima. Its waters cascade down the cliffside, giving nourishment to the soil below and yearnings for a person who is no more.

They were supposed to live there, Ellie and he. It never came to pass.

But their house floats above him, feeding the flame that burns in the chamber of his yearning. She was the daring one. She was the talker, the bright and firey soul who brought real adventure into Carl’s life. She was a doorway through his walls of shyness into a life of joy and meaning.

There is a certain sweetness that fills a heart that has its yearnings met in the embrace of another. In finding that soulmate, our lives take on a buoyancy and joy that we did not feel alone. When we find ourselves in this love’s embrace, it feels wonderful.

But building the house of our identity using the love and validation of another as its foundation is a risky endeavour. We enter then an inner geography where co-dependency thrives. And when the object of our love disappears, the scaffolding to our self worth collapses. It’s as if we are now half a person, torn down the middle in ways which fill love songs and Hollywood movies.

It’s not that needing another is bad. Authentic need is beautiful and reflects the truth that we cannot live our lives alone. But there is an energetic pull that can germinate in the soil of need that may cause us to veer off the mature track of inter-dependence into full-blown co-dependency.

Co-dependency grows out of the needs of immaturity. An ego that is not exposed fully to life will not develop psychological sophistication. An ego that chooses to stay at home over travelling to Roraima at the risk of personal bankruptcy will suffer a stagnation and contraction, inevitably leading to four safety locks on the front door.

But Carl’s rebellious nature propels him to the sky and a second chance in life. Adventure is upon him and Paradise Falls is in sight.

Carl’s gateways to liberation

Between the cliffs of the Roraima region, Carl, Russell and their new animal friends – Dug the talking dog, and Kevin the exotic bird – stumble across Charles Muntz. The explorer must be 120 years old, but is fit as a fiddle. Carl is predictably excited to meet his childhood hero, but soon discovers that Muntz is a villainous creature with little eye for anything but his own reputation.

This is a turning point for Carl. Charles Muntz is the man to whom he has surrendered his Inner Throne, and he is not worthy of it! With that realization, Carl starts waking up from a trance that has lasted most of his life. In realizing it’s time to cease dreaming of being someone else, Carl walks through the first gateway to liberation.

The second gateway appears through his deepening relationship with Russell. In a very sweet scene, Carl understands that this annoying, chubby boy scout has no father present in his life. The badge for helping the elderly is a key to his father’s love, as he has promised to be there for Russell’s award ceremony. Russell wants to help Carl becauses he misses his dad. (That this likely hits close to home for many young men today fills me with sadness).

This scene shows how Russell’s story strums Carl’s heart strings and sows in him the seed of compassion. Compassion, of course, is by definition directed outwards. For the first time since Ellie passed, Carl has an eye for something other than his own grief, and his selfish melancholy starts to lift.

The third and perhaps most important gateway comes when Carl leafs through the pages of Ellie’s Adventure book. It is clear that Carl on some level feels like he failed Ellie. He didn’t give her a child and he didn’t get her to Paradise Falls. He has assumed that Ellie’s life was wasted, that she never felt truly alive. But as he turns the page where Ellie all those years ago wrote “Stuff I’m going to do”, expecting to find them empty, Carl finds page after page of photographs from the life that they shared.

In this moment, Carl realizes that Ellie lived a full life and that she carried no regrets or resentments towards him. She even left an inscription for him on the last page, perhaps anticipating his descent into grief and despair:  “Thanks for the adventure. Now go have a new one.”

In absorbing the full impact of those words, Carl’s call to adventure finally fully penetrates his thick skull and his Hero’s quest starts in earnest.

Saving Kevin

Kevin is an exotic bird that seems to like Carl and Russell. It hovers around them making cutesy sounds while flapping its little butterfly wings.

The colorful bird is a creature of Muntz’s past. It is of the same species as the skeleton the scientists at home believed was a fake. Muntz now intends to bring it home to restore his reputation (where everyone, I’m sure, has forgotten who he is).

Carl, Russell and talking dog Dug all become the absurd players of an exotic bird mid-air rescue mission. Carl transforms in these scenes from an infirm old man to something of a superhero. Such, I suppose, is the strength of Ellie’s blessings Smilefjes som blunker

In the end the unlikely band of renegades stand victorious atop Charles Muntz’s zeppelin, while that old git is falling to his watery grave.

This scene ends with a profound message told through the image of a house disappearing into clouds. Now that Carl has lived out an adventure of his own, independent of his wife, he has in a way claimed his manhood and his own autonomous desire for being in life. Being alive without Ellie all of a sudden has meaning. There is a world of adventure out there that he gets to engage with! It is a gift to him. By stepping onto the path of his own unique life, he severs the shackles of co-dependency and is ready to let go of the house.

It’s almost as if she whispers, as the house fades away “Goodbye, my love. I’m so proud of you. Now go live your life!”


Up is a simple and absurd story with a profound message. It reminds us of the inherent dangers of living predictable, safe lives. It also alludes to the teachings, propagated by David Deida among others, on the essential qualities of the masculine and feminine. On our death beds, the feminine part of us asks “was I truly loved?” and the masculine asks “did I give it all?”. The feminine Ellie was truly loved, but the masculine Carl had not truly given his best until he took to the skies and started writing an adventure book of his own.

When Carl shows up at Russell’s award ceremony, the world is put right. The painful divide torn open between generations is mended. The pervasive fear and unworthiness that tends to spread among the elders in a culture that does not see their gifts vanishes. But it’s not just a cultural condition. It’s on each of us to stay open and alive as we get older. Carl finally acted on his authentic yearning and claimed his Inner Throne, thus feeling worthy of serving as a wise elder and King in Russell’s life.

There is a deep beauty in that which, if grasped fully, would change the world.

Powerful ideas from UP

  • Postponing your dreams for fear that pursuing them won't work out will shut down your life force and make you grumpy.
  • In order to move from co-dependency to inter-dependency, a man needs to have a rich life outside of the relationship.
  • Grieving, while important, can turn selfish. There's a whole world out there!
  • Go have an adventure! Ellie wants you to (and so do I)
  • Dogs are into squirrels

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