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South America: It’s Like America… But South!

October 23, 2009

So says Ellie through the enormous gap in her front teeth at the beginning of Pixar’s Up, which fortuitously was shown on the airplane as I was on my way from Panama City to Santiago yesterday. I’d already seen the movie twice when it came out but, as I’d already finished The Economist and was halfway through The Atlantic, I took a break from reading to watch it a third time.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of wilderness recently, because of this trip and because I mention it in the application essays that I’ve been writing – and because it’s in the name of the blog – and Up, as it so happens, has a lot to say about wilderness. An insightful connection it makes is between wilderness and youth. From a certain perspective, youth and wilderness are of the same cloth while adulthood is urbanized. In youth, we are free of the developed sprawl of experience, imbued societal expectations and loss. We are still organic, undisturbed, natural. In adulthood, we are constricted by the various lines drawn around us, by ourselves, by others, by our past, by cultural expectations, which together form the grid of an organized community.

Of course, those negative values linked to adulthood do have their positive counterparts. Experience begets knowledge and a greater understanding of the world and truth. Societal expectations can allow us to live in harmony with others while loss is only possible if we have something to lose in the first place – family, friends, loved ones – and the saying that we would rather loved and lost than never loved at all is likely one of the truest clichés existent.

While not denigrating adulthood necessarily, Up’s portrayal of the young Wilderness Explorer Russell shows why we should all endeavor to maintain our youth, a quality that is, incidentally, independent of our age. Russell’s youth is evident in his enthusiasm and curiosity, attributes that we know Carl once had or, at least, borrowed from Ellie. Wilderness, untamed, uncharted, unknown, is the perfect setting for the expression of youth, as youth has no disadvantage to experience in unfamiliar territory. In the daily routine Carl goes about at the beginning of the movie, we see that he has lost his curiosity, has allowed himself to be confined to a life where everything is known and familiar. He grumbles through the same adventure to his porch chair each day as the world changes around him.

That Carl has entered this rut is, of course, understandable. He’s lost his wife and, well, he’s old. But, as we might expect, by the end of the movie, Russell has brought Carl’s youth back to the surface as he takes risks experience wouldn’t justify and literally rids himself of the ballast that has held him down, though not of his cherished memories of Ellie. I won’t go into detail so that all will be encouraged to see it.

Two other notes:

  • The opening montage is wonderful, so much story and feeling packed into five minutes.
  • Did Balloon Boy see Up?
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