July 16, 2009
Onward and Upward
Sometimes, I've found, work just gets in the way of things. We didn't know what to get four siblings--ages eight to sixteen--for their birthdays, for example, so we decided to take them all to see Up, this summer's 3-D animated motion picture from Pixar. Nice sentiment, yes? Now all we had to do was figure out a time all four of them--not to mention my wife and I--would be available.
(Incidentally, "my wife and I" is a good indication that this Strangely Dim post was written by Dave, not by fellow contributors Lisa or Christa.)
Turns out that the only time we could come up with was middle of the day Wednesday. Turns out that would be OK, since my boss is out of the office and will never find out I played hooky because he doesn't read this blog and NONE OF MY READERS OR FELLOW CONTRIBUTORS WOULD EVER RAT ME OUT.
So Wednesday I escaped the IVP offices and drove out to Wheaton to pick up the kids, then to Downers Grove to see Up at the Tivoli Theater, a restored "classic" cinema with free refills on popcorn and drinks. On the weekends they precede shows with an old-fashioned organist (not one of those crazy futuristic organists like at other theaters), but this was a Wednesday noon show, which, it turns out, doesn't draw a lot of people. The six of us plopped down in the dead center of the theater, donned our 3-D glasses, slurped our drinks, gobbled our popcorn and enjoyed the show.
Up has, as is typical of Pixar films, an outlandish premise: an old man becomes fed up with the cold press of industrialization all around him and decides to escape to the South American rainforest via thousands of helium balloons attached to his house. A boy scout with an emotionally distant dad inadvertently stows away, and they become unlikely partners, house in tow, on a wild adventure. Like I said, outlandish.
Movies, it turns out, are escapist only when they don't deal with themes that you have a hard time dealing with. I, for example, have a hard time dealing with aging and death. Spend any amount of time rooting around in the Strangely Dim archives and that will become self-evident. So here I was, sitting in the middle of a theater in the middle of the day in the midst of four kids I've known since they were born, watching what was supposed to be a silly distraction from an otherwise burdensome day. And here I was, confronted with aging and death. Some kids' movie this was.
It really was quite a good movie, though. Pixar is well-practiced at telling very grown-up stories in a format suitable for children: from Toy Story to Wall-E and beyond, Pixar makes kids laugh and adults stroke their beards while laughing. Helium is a good medium for Up, because we're carried gently, quietly, almost imperceptibly along from seeing old age as a sad ending--a story of nothing but increasing loss and disappointment and marginalization--to seeing old age as just another chapter in the story that is being written with us as ink.
Up doesn't deny the age (and corresponding limitations) of its hero any more than it denies the sadness of his sidekick's homelife. And yet in true outlandish fashion we see this very old man haul a house across continents, we see him turn his walker into a weapon, we see him let go of his disappointments and embrace the next passage of his destiny. Outlandish? Yes. Effective? Yes.
I'm pretty sure I'm still closer in age to Up's sidekick than to its hero, and yet this question of aging still regularly nags at me. But, as I learned from Up and countless other life lessons, facing your fears, your disillusionments and even painful realities like aging and death often results in new adventures, new courage and, sometimes, whole new chapters in the story of your life. Not bad for a kids' cartoon.