Up (review)

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Fly Away Home

If there’s magic in them thar Pixar films, it’s not just the magic of supernaturally gorgeous animation and inexpressibly poignant characters and a touch so light that it turns the deeply profound into something ethereal. It’s that, Damn, do the Pixar wizards have a crystal ball, or are they just mystically prescient? Anyone with half a brain could see years ago that tough times were on the horizon, but how did the Pixar folks time it just right, especially with the looong production schedules these animated movies require, to get this cheerful and fantastical yet never unrealistically optimistic movie before our eyes just as we are getting desperate for a movie to hug us reassuringly? How did they know that a story about dreams deferred and ambitions reconsidered and making the best and the most of what you have was exactly the kind of thing we’d need at the start of what looks to be a gloomy summer of 2009?

There’s something both grand and cozy in the concept: An elderly man lofts his house into the air by way of thousands of brightly colored helium balloons, the kind you’d buy at the zoo or the circus to please a child. Carl Fredricksen (the voice of Edward Asner: Elf) is going to fulfill a dream that he and his wife, Ellie, now deceased, shared: to see the mysterious land of Paradise Falls in South America. And he’s going to travel there by floating house. It’s a wonderful clashing of two wildly opposing desires, for home and comfort, and for excitement and adventure, and it’s so gloriously and perfectly executed by Pixar-vet directors Pete Docter (Wall-E, Toy Story 2) and Bob Peterson (Ratatouille, Finding Nemo) — Peterson wrote the screenplay — that it would be churlish to call it implausible even if the film allowed any room for you to do so. The peculiarly effective Pixar magic in Up is that it doesn’t allow that. The moment that house rises into the sky, your heart soars with it, and knows that Yes, that is exactly right.

We know Carl by that point, thanks to an introductory sequence that fast-forwards us through his life with Ellie — they met as imaginative children — that may be one of the most moving 10 or 15 minutes of movie I’ve ever seen. And so that feeling of rightness springs from that, from knowing what it means to Carl. It means: escape from the many things that have been haunting him, not just memories but more immediate concerns that I won’t spoil for you.

Not that this is a spoilable movie. I could relate the entire plot and still it wouldn’t matter, because Up is all about the cinematic experience of it. (I must admit, though, that while I saw the movie in 3D, I’m not sure it demands that. But don’t miss seeing it on the biggest screen you can.) It’s about the luscious colors, and about the warmth and life the animation imbues its characters with and the sweetness with which it brings them together. For there is also Russell (the voice of Jordan Nagai), an eight-year-old Wilderness Scout, accidentally along on Carl’s journey. Which is what prevents Up from being purely about escape for Carl… and for us, too. If Carl’s adventure feels like pure fantasy, Russell grounds him, and the film, with his own issues.

There are dark moments here: the film earns its PG rating, and I have no doubt that some children, years from now, will talk about a few of those dark moments in the same way that we grownups today talk about Bambi’s mother and flying monkeys. But the cleverness and originality of Up is nearly boundless. For all that it does evoke The Wizard of Oz, especially with the storm that blows Carl and Russell and the house to the strange realm of Paradise Falls, as well as the cunning play on its “there’s no place like home” theme, there are surprises at every turn, too. In the plot, in the visuals, in the dialogue… some of which is so refreshingly novel that I couldn’t tell you anything about the rest of it, because the audience I saw this with was laughing so loud and so hard and so long that we all missed half of what was said. Dug the talking dog (the voice of writer-director Peterson) is surely the highlight. (If you’ve ever wondered what kind of sense of humor a dog would have, wait till you hear Dug’s attempt at a joke.)

When I wasn’t sobbing through Up because it’s so honest in how it wants to touch you, I was sobbing at how beautiful it is to look at. Or sobbing at how marvelously witty it is. Or sobbing simply with the relief of having my love of movies reconfirmed. This is a perfect movie in all ways. Don’t miss it.


Oscars Best Animated Feature 2009

previous Best Animated Feature:
2008: Wall-E
next Best Animated Feature:
2010: Toy Story 3

go> the complete list of Oscar-winning Best Animated Features

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Jan Willem
Jan Willem
Fri, May 29, 2009 4:21pm

Nice write-up! You are one of the few reviewers to spot that here we have yet another Pixar director upstaging his leads in the valiant tradition of Andrew Stanton as Crush (Nemo) and Brad Bird as Edna Mode (Incredibles). Too bad we need to wait until October to see this in the Netherlands.

However, I believe the term they use for Russell in the movie is ‘Wilderness Explorer’, probably to avoid the trademarked ‘Boy Scout’. (I know about that stuff because I used to be a Sea Scout. Not quite the same thing as them landlubbers, you know, but this probably isn’t the right place to relive those ancient rivalries.)

JoshDM
JoshDM
Fri, May 29, 2009 4:50pm

I like how your review doesn’t ever mention the accursed words Mouse, The Mouse, Disney, The Disney, or Walt.

Glenn
Glenn
Fri, May 29, 2009 5:03pm

I was already planning on seeing Up this weekend–it had the only trailer I didn’t mind sitting through so many times before showings of Star Trek–but now I’m all the more excited about it.

m
m
Fri, May 29, 2009 10:27pm

“This is a perfect movie in all ways.”
-Agreed. A masterpiece.
After seeing NATM2 last weekend, I started to re-consider going to the movies again, maybe ever, it was that bad.
So glad I went to UP, it re-confirmed my love of movies also.

Mathias
Mathias
Fri, May 29, 2009 10:27pm

Ellie’s 2 sentence message to Carl at the crisis point of the film was unbelievably touching. My heartstrings haven’t been tugged liked that in a long while.

Susan Wilson
Susan Wilson
Sat, May 30, 2009 8:34am

I think every adult needs to see the Pixar film UP. It makes us all want to live our life to the fullest and never give up. The spirit of adventure lives in us all and we need to remind ourselves of that fact everyday.

Prankster
Sat, May 30, 2009 1:46pm

What’s interesting about Pixar is the way they make movies whose themes resonate much more with adults than children. Toy Story 1 and 2 and Finding Nemo, in particular, are specifically about adult concerns that kids might be able to understand, intellectually, but can’t relate to the way their parents can. And now here’s this movie that seems emotionally targeted primarily at old people, for all the fun and whimsy for the youngsters.

By the way, I love the lack of schmaltz in this film (something Pixar occasionally does fall prey to, particularly in Nemo). They barely even use “sad music” for the big emotional beats.

PaulW
Sat, May 30, 2009 2:20pm

I couldn’t help thinking this during the aerial dogfight:
“Grey Two to Grey Leader: Look at the size of that SQUIRREL!”
“Cut the chatter Grey Two!”

This is not a movie about whimsy, however: it is poignant and wistful and melancholy and SQUIRREL! Sorry.

There is only one other thing to say about UP: why did Pixar stop making those funny blooper outtakes?

P.S. I cried twice in this movie. I also cried twice in the current Star Trek. Coincidence, I think not!

amanohyo
amanohyo
Sat, May 30, 2009 3:02pm

I cried like I always do and have the same broken record nitpicks that I often have with Pixar movies. The female characters are mainly there for emotional support, to die, or to get rescued (the first ten minutes gave me hope, and then let me down). The cartoon physics occasionally threw me out of the movie (mainly the superhuman strength, not the balloon-house parts, those were handled perfectly), and the comic relief scenes often feel tacked on for the benefit of the wee ones.

But aside from those minor perennial issues, it was a great movie and another baby step in the right direction. As Prankster mentioned, a few of the big emotional scenes were actually handled in an almost subtle way (though the score is still a bit schmaltzy). It felt rushed in spots, but only because I enjoyed every minute and wanted more. Although it’s not gonna knock Monsters Inc. out of the top spot for me, it came pretty damn close.

I felt (and the audience reactions seemed to confirm this) that it definitely leaned more towards adults than children. I wish Pixar’d just split off an adult division already and show us what they can really do when they’re not pulled in two directions at once. So they’d probably lose millions of dollars, so what? And for the record I cried four times during the movie and once during the short. I hereby claim the title of wussiest movie goer ever.

Miguel
Miguel
Sat, May 30, 2009 7:31pm

it’s one of the few films I’ve seen where people didn’t mind if others heard them crying.
those first 10 minutes are so beautiful yet so emotionally draining!
and yes, he might be there for comic relief, but Dug is fantastic -but for some reason I kept wondering if it was the voice of Seth Rogen.

Miguel
Miguel
Sat, May 30, 2009 7:33pm

s
p
o
i
l
e
r

forgot to quote my favourite Dug line: I’ve only just met you, but I love you!

Even Kevin, whom I found annoying and extremely childish throughout the film, ends up being an unforgettable character.

Laurie Mann
Sat, May 30, 2009 11:20pm

I did not cry, but I did sniffle a little.

It was a great, great movie. While I liked Wall*E, I thought UP had a vastly superior script.

OldDarth
OldDarth
Sun, May 31, 2009 8:15am

Huzzah. I have just seen the perfect film.

Pixar makes treasures. Magical ones at that.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Sun, May 31, 2009 10:19am

The female characters are mainly there for emotional support, to die, or to get rescued (the first ten minutes gave me hope, and then let me down).

MINOR SPOILERS

I mentioned this in my Week in Women column this week, but I thought it didn’t really belong here, because it’s not a problem with this particular film… it’s just a problem that every Pixar film all but excludes women. Even the dog here is male! (Kevin is female, it turns out, but we can’t call her a woman.)

My favorite Dug line is “I was hiding under your porch because I love you.”

Though if I could remember Dug’s whole joke, that would be my favorite. But his explanation for it is priceless: it’s something like, “It is funny because the squirrel is dead.”

amanohyo
amanohyo
Sun, May 31, 2009 12:55pm

EVE, Elastigirl and Jessie are okay side characters, and Dory is pretty awesome, but it’s weird to see male characters at the center of Pixar movies over and over and over when everyone at the studio claims to idolize Miyazaki. I don’t get how anyone who loves Miyazaki’s work could fail to see that a lot of the appeal of his greatest movies comes from strong, realistic, independent female characters.

Oh well, just like I always say when I watch a Pixar movie, maybe next time… maybe next time.

Martin
Martin
Sun, May 31, 2009 1:30pm

Coincidence, I think not!

Don’t Bernie me! This little rat is guilty!

amanohyo
amanohyo
Sun, May 31, 2009 6:02pm

I studied bioengineering a little bit, and a device that translates certain signals in the brain into words is within the realm of possibility in our lifetimes, certainly for simpler organisms (we’ll probably be gone by the time they make it to something as complex as a dog).

Anyway, people have always told “if animals could talk,” jokes but until this movie, I never realized just how hilarious it’s going to be for those first few years. After a while, everyone will probably get used to it; however, Dug is a riot, and most of his “jokes” don’t even feel forced.

Aside from the talking dogs, the movie suffered from a lack of imagination. I was kinda hoping they’d see a lot more surprising miracles of nature and relics of past civilizations in that legendary jungle. Maybe Muntz got to them all first?

Tom
Tom
Mon, Jun 01, 2009 7:23pm

Mary Ann, I rely on your insightful reviews before seeing any movie, mostly because your opinion is spot on.

You truly hit the bullseye with this review. I felt all the things you felt about this movie, which in my mind does function on so many levels, touches the heart like few movies do, and leaves you with a genuine – not forced – warm feeling of hope inside. The timing is impeccable.

Thank you for your candid, accurate and touching review. Ironically, this movie harkens back to the era of young Muntz and Karl, to a time when movies moved you. Wonderful stuff…why can’t they all be of this quality???

bats :[
bats :[
Mon, Jun 01, 2009 9:57pm

Is it weird that many of the “classic” Disney animated films had strong women, or at least those who were the featured performers (Snow White, Cinderella, Mulan, Ariel, etc.)?

amanohyo
amanohyo
Tue, Jun 02, 2009 12:43am

Yeah bats… I’m not really a big fan of the Disney “princesses” (Mulan, Esmeralda, and Jasmine are okay, ), as their main goal seems to be to hook up with Hunky McBlanderson in the final reel. But you’re right, at least they used to be at the centers of their stories, and das maushaus definitely created some kickass female villains. Everyone remembers Cruella and Ursula, but Maleficent is my personal favorite.

The only female villains I can think of on Pixar’s side are Darla and Mirage. Veeery disappointing… I’d better stop whining and let people discuss the movie. At our showing, the entire theater was sobbing after the first ten minutes, and there isn’t even any dialogue in that section after the “cute meet.” Pixar truly excels at the silent movie format (the first half hour of Wall-E similarly impressed me).

bronxbee
bronxbee
Tue, Jun 02, 2009 2:07pm

i agree with amanohyo — never a big fan of the “princesses”. i mean, snow white cleans house for the dwarves; cinderella sweeps and cleans up; sleeping beauty — kinda just sleeps, really. all of them are waiting for “prince charming” and there isn’t a mother-figure in sight who isn’t evil, wicked, mean and nasty. i did like Mulan and Belle (who at least loved to read and yearned for adventure, though she wound up living with a man instead). i’m never sure about Ariel — who at least had a goal and went after it, willingly paying the price. but her goal was… a man. stil, for sheer beauty and quality of animation, it’s hard to beat Pixar and Disney.

Scott P
Scott P
Tue, Jun 02, 2009 5:53pm

Went to see “UP” with my 4-yo nephew & his parents. My sister-in-law recently stated that she NEVER cries at movies. So with tears still in my eyes after the movie, I asked her if UP got to her & she replied “That movie? Really???” Apparently, she is a stone-hearted dude & I am a big, softy wuss because there were big crocodile tears rolling down my face at least 3-4 times. Glad to see that many other folks on this forum also got choked up during those first 10 minutes.

As others have noted, UP is really an achingly-beautiful movie made for adults but it’s got enough humor & action to entertain the kids too.

Regarding the discussion of women’s limited roles in Pixar films, I do not disagree. However, I would like to point out that everything Carl does is for his beloved wife Ellie. So in that respect, the movie revolves around the love story of Ellie & Carl.

UP is hands-down the best movie I have seen in 2009…going to see The Brothers Bloom & Sugar tomorrow.

Erik Goodwyn
Erik Goodwyn
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 10:41am

I disagree that there are no important female characters in this film. Ellie is not a character “whose main function is to die”. Ellie is the heart and soul of the entire story. As is so often the case, the female element of the story is more subtle and pervasive (not unlike the “transfunctional goddesses” of ancient indo-european religions, without whose approval no male king is worthy). But male heroics seems more popular these days, so that’s all anyone talks about, even if only in the negative.

Carl is only a closet romantic adventurer without Ellie, she pulls him out of his shell, which is more like a coffin by the end of the first montage. Only when her image, which Carl worships, is threatened does he act, and out of respect for her “cross your heart” promise to her. But (spoiler alert), by the end of the movie, we realize with Carl that Ellie was a much deeper person than that, and that on her death bed she composed a new grand adventure for him to remember her by. Then the house–more a mausoleum–is allowed to drift to its rightful place in Paradise Falls, which is a beautiful but empty fantasy, and he is allowed to live the rest of his life. Notice how before he spends the movie hauling around his house like a burden–its a metaphor, intentional or not, of his imprisonment of grief over losing Ellie, but forgetting her “spirit of adventure” (which he not coincidentally inherits by the end of the film).

So what if Ellie doesn’t conquer the vast horizons like “male” heroes do in stories? Do that and the whole story becomes stupid. Instead she’s the most important leitmotif of the story, and even from the grave rescues him from withdrawing into despair at the end of his life. Anyone who thinks she is “unimportant” or only exists as a plot device is viewing it far too narrowly, perhaps with a procrustean political lens rather than an open mind.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 11:04am

Did anyone say Ellie was “unimportant”? Clearly, she’s not. But she’s also NOT a character in this story. She is motivation for Carl, who grows and changes and learns throughout the story. That’s what characters do: they experience something and they change because of it. That’s the whole purpose of telling a story, and the whole purpose of experiencing it: to move with a character or characters through that change.

But this does not happen to Ellie. I’m not saying that as a *person* she doesn’t change, but as a character in a story, she doesn’t. And that’s very much the case with LOTS of movies. Women are very often either prizes or goals for the hero to attain, or “goddesses” (ie: the hooker with a heart of gold) or or “villains” (ie: the nagging wife) of one sort or another who inspire them or motivate them. These women do not change and grow: they are present in the story to force the men to change and grow.

Imagine if almost every movie we saw forced men onto the sidelines, cast them as either irredeemable bad or inhumanly good, and never allowed them a journey of self-discovery. Imagine if almost every movie we saw said, in its subtext, that men were only good for what they could do for women. Wouldn’t that piss you off eventually, guys, no matter how good each of those individual stories might me?

amanohyo
amanohyo
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 12:22pm

I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but in order to create female characters that can change and grow, at some point you have to accept that human beings have goals in life other than sitting around dreaming of the day when Prince Charming will sweep them off into baby-making paradise. Prince Charming and the other male side-characters have plenty of passions and goals other than “getting the girl” (which is usually just a side-effect of finishing the “quest”), why don’t the girls?

Maybe there are women out there who spend their every waking moment thinking about how to be pretty so they can catch the perfect man. Maybe their adult lives really do revolve entirely around having and raising children and keeping their man happy and satisfied. However, I don’t know any people like that, male or female. That’s why I respect Disney villains more than Disney princesses. They may not change, but Cruella and co. at least have dreams that don’t consist solely of satisfying someone else.

SPOILER ALERT
That’s kind of why the big payoff with the extra pages in the Adventure book rang a little hollow to me. I was waiting for Carl to say or show somehow that he was sorry that Ellie was forced to make a choice between her dream and a life with him. I’m not blaming Carl for the financial realities they had to face (although his job clearly wasn’t bringing in the kind of change their dream required), but he should have at least felt some regret that he was the one to go on the adventure that Ellie had been so passionate about. The movie lets him off his guilt hook too easily. I’m sorry, but a few pictures of walks in the park and some pleasant memories do not erase a lifelong dream in an instant, I don’t care how many miles you’ve been dragging around a house. The shift from penance to triumph was too abrupt. If Carl had shed a tear or broken down when he saw those pages or even just mumbled “I’m so sorry,” it would have felt as if he had actually learned something more meaningful.
END SPOILER

JoshB
JoshB
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 12:32pm

Wouldn’t that piss you off eventually, guys, no matter how good each of those individual stories might me?

Nope. Movie portrayals of men account for exactly zero percent of my self-image.

Erik Goodwyn
Erik Goodwyn
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 1:03pm

In the previous comment, and in yours, you are saying that being “emotional support”, or a foil, or a villian is being in a devalued position. Either she is only important insofar as she is of value to a male character, or if she is the main character, she only achieves happiness through a relationship with a male. But doesn’t this second option simply mirror the male character’s role? Most male-centered stories have a female love interest, because it is important to him to gain her favor through his growth.

There are zillions of movies and books with central female characters–they’re usually called “romances”. Yet you often rail against these too. The women in these experience and grow, and at the end, yes many times they get married and have children. So what? Are women not *supposed* to want these things? Isn’t it possible these are used as “rewards” simply because most women want these things, just like most men want to be admired by women?

It seems that what you want is a story where a woman experiences, changes and grows completely outside of any male character’s influence. That would be unusual, just like a story wherein a male character grows and changes independently of any female characters would be unusual (like, say, Lawrence of Arabia; hardly typical).

But there’s a deeper issue here, in that men and women are not identical. Men and women think somewhat differently (on average)–this is probably due to our primate heritage. Men are more geared toward physical and sexual competition, and women are superior in language abilities and empathic reasoning (again, on average). The way we present “male” vs. “female” stories may be just as much a reflection of biological brain differences in the sexes as it is of some kind of social conspiracy to suppress women. The latter may very well exist, by why always assume it?

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 1:21pm

In the previous comment, and in yours, you are saying that being “emotional support”, or a foil, or a villian is being in a devalued position.

No, I’m not. I’m saying that *as fiction in our culture typically presents women,* they are useful only as far as they serve the growth of the male characters, not as characters in their own right.

There are zillions of movies and books with central female characters–they’re usually called “romances”.

Thank you for making my point. Why aren’t there zillions of movies and books about women that are NOT primarily centered on romance?

Are women not *supposed* to want these things?

Ah, so you’re suggesting that the fact that most stories about men are NOT about them seeking out romance and marriage and children, that means that men don’t want those things?

Or can it be that our culture — and the fiction that dominates it — allows for men to be fully rounded people who CAN want it all, and have it all, but does not extend the same courtesy to women?

In other words: *Up* could have *easily* been about Ellie struggling to find a new path in life after the death of her beloved husband — who, in his wisdom, had discovered his own peace during his lifetime that he posthumously passes on to her. But it isn’t.

There could be a tradition of stories in our culture about women seeking meaning and adventure and wisdom (and not excluding love and romance and children from that equation, but not making it women’s only priorities) accomplished through sidelined male characters who are there to inspire them or motivate them. But there isn’t.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 1:41pm

Movie portrayals of men account for exactly zero percent of my self-image.

This isn’t about “self-image,” JoshB. If it were, and mine had been crushed by the lack of strong, positive, *human* depictions of women onscreen, I’d hardly have the moxie to complain about it, would I? I’d have long ago dedicated myself to satisfying male needs in some way over my own, having internalized the message that men are more worthy of their humanity than women are.

I cannot believe, though, that someone who loves movies enough to keep coming around here and posting comments wouldn’t be mad to be constantly told that you’re not as important as some other people are merely on account of your gender.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 1:44pm

There are zillions of movies and books with central female characters–they’re usually called “romances”.

Oh, and another thing: those zillions of movies and books about romance are typically derided as “chick” stuff, of interest to women only. Yet the stories about men are supposed to be universal, and of interest to everyone. Is it too much to ask for a story, just once in a damn while, about a woman that is also meant to be of interest to everyone, and representative of all humanity, instead of the tiny minority the 51% of us comprise?

JoshB
JoshB
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 1:47pm

It seems that what you want is a story where a woman experiences, changes and grows completely outside of any male character’s influence.

That’s a wild exaggeration. She wants a story where his attention is not her sole motivation.

In other words: *Up* could have *easily* been about Ellie struggling to find a new path in life after the death of her beloved husband — who, in his wisdom, had discovered his own peace during his lifetime that he posthumously passes on to her. But it isn’t.

So easily, in fact, that it was called “P.S. I Love You”

Erik Goodwyn
Erik Goodwyn
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 2:08pm

Have you ever read any romances? Many of them are not really about romance, per say, so much as all the other stuff you say is absent in fiction about women.

Consider these two stories: a man experiences, changes and grows, and in the end “gets the girl”. Here you might cry foul that the only purpose she serves is to provide him with a “prize”.

In the second story, a woman experiences, changes and grows, and in the end, gets married with hopes for having children. Here you might cry foul that she is only being shown to want to get married and have children, and darn it she’s supposed to want MORE!

But I might as easily cry foul that the first story only shows men as interested in women’s opinions of them. And the second story only shows men as a vehicle through which a woman can have a child and marriage. Hey, you can’t have it both ways!

And yes, I think women are–on average–more interested in family and children than men are. No it’s not a popular opinion, but I think it’s the most scientific. Males in the animal kingdom (which includes humans!) are rewarded with reproductive success if they are aggressive, competitive, and glory seeking. And since men in the ancestral environment could never be certain their children were actually theirs, Nature made attachment and child bonding less intense for males than females.

Females, on the other hand, are less interested in short-term sexcapades than men, because no matter how many partners she has, she can only have one or two babies at a time. So Nature invested in females less interest in outrageous conquest and more interest in intimate bonding and familial attachment. It’s a tradeoff: invest time and energy into mate seeking or child rearing? Men lean more to one side, and women to the other…on average, just because of our biology.

I agree women should be encouraged to “have it all”, but what men and women want is not all due to “society”, which ours is admittedly patriarchal due to Roman influences on Western civilization, but a big chunk of it may be also our biology.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 2:21pm

But I might as easily cry foul that the first story only shows men as interested in women’s opinions of them.

No, you couldn’t, because those movies are NOT about men doing nothing but pursuing women! The men get to do all sorts of exciting things that have nothing to do with the pursuit of romance: romance just gets plopped in their laps at the end of it all.

And yes, I think women are–on average–more interested in family and children than men are.

If you feel better thinking along these lines, fine. But if you want to talk about “averages,” please explain this: Most men are NOT cops, FBI agents, fighter pilots, or superheroes. So why are so many movies about those kinds of male characters?

And let’s talk about movies. Almost any Hollywood movie can be boiled down to this: It’s about the most important thing that will happen in the life of the protagonist. On average, for most people of either gender, that WILL be getting married and having children. On average, how often do we see movies in which a man is the protagonist and the resolution of his story is that he falls in love, gets married, and has children?

Erik Goodwyn
Erik Goodwyn
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 2:22pm

Yes, some movies are called “chick flicks”. Others are called “guy movies”. “Guy movies” are derided by many women who just don’t care about things blowing up. Understandably.

But all the romance novels that you claim are “derided” sure are popular. About one of every two novels written is a romance. Perhaps the perception is that only women read them, but I doubt it. However, that is a reflection of men’s attitudes toward themselves–I admit to reading them, but I’m in the minority, after all “real” men wouldn’t bother with such stuff. Why isn’t that limiting attitude due to society “suppressing” men?

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 2:24pm

In other words, why aren’t women allowed to have the same extreme fantasies in the realm of cinema that men are allowed?

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 2:26pm

But all the romance novels that you claim are “derided” sure are popular. About one of every two novels written is a romance. Perhaps the perception is that only women read them, but I doubt it. However, that is a reflection of men’s attitudes toward themselves–I admit to reading them, but I’m in the minority, after all “real” men wouldn’t bother with such stuff. Why isn’t that limiting attitude due to society “suppressing” men?

Again, you’re making my points for me! It IS suppressing men! Why aren’t you proud to say you read these books?

I’ll tell you why: Because the general perception of them is that they’re inferior because they’re intended only for women!

JoshB
JoshB
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 2:38pm

I cannot believe, though, that someone who loves movies enough to keep coming around here and posting comments wouldn’t be mad to be constantly told that you’re not as important as some other people are merely on account of your gender.

Believe it or not, it’s true.

Yeah, I love movies. No, it wouldn’t bother me if men were constantly portrayed as less important than women.

I dunno, people in general tend to be a lot more emotional than me. Most men probably would be upset, so in that regard your point is well taken.

Erik Goodwyn
Erik Goodwyn
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 2:39pm

It isn’t about my “feeling better” by believing that. My opinion is based on a lot of literature in the fields of evolutionary psychology, affective neuroscience, anthropology and comparative ethology–but I didn’t want to bore your readers with a bibliography. At any rate it seems you disagree.

The bottom line is basically that the brain regions that handle attachment bonding and infant care are more active and vigorous in females than males, and that’s in ALL MAMMALS. On the other hand, the sex region (the interstitial nucleus of the anterior hypothalamus, or the INAH-3 nucleus) is triple in size and activity in men than women; men dream of sex 3 times as much as women do, and that’s in every culture ever studied. I’m not making this stuff up.

Your question about superhero movies is great. I think it’s because cops and super FBI agents epitomize the “hero” ideal latent in everyone; he is aggressive, strong, courageous, conquering. These are themes universal to all cultures because ancestral men were hunters and warriors above all else. The best ones succeeded in enhancing the survival of the tribe and his offspring. Nature didn’t have time to hard wire men to be excited by the prospect of being a middle-management clerk. So, the answer is because men want to be these guys, and women want to *have* these guys…again, on average.

Erik Goodwyn
Erik Goodwyn
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 2:43pm

I’m neither proud nor ashamed of having read them. But I question the perception of them as “inferior because they pertain to women”. Why do you say that? Who says this? These books are insanely popular, I’m not aware that they are considered inferior to any other genre.

bitchen frizzy
bitchen frizzy
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 3:10pm

Erik, you have a few valid points, like that bit about the maternal bond and all, but, good gracious, your take on history and anthropology is askew.

A few points:

1) Ancestral men were not above all hunters and warriors. They spent most of their time and energy gathering, and, later, farming. The young men did the fighting, at the direction of the older men, who didn’t do the fighting because they had responsibilities like homes and children. The young men are the most expendable, and this is true in many species, like dogs. So, yes, the young men are the most aggressive and glory-seeking, but it’s survivors that propagate and pass on genes…

2) A high percentage of women think romance novels are crap.

3) Men in the ancestral environment had all kinds of ways of ensuring their mates’ children were theirs. Some of those primitive means are still in use today. In some ancient cultures, men were positively obsessed with this – like in cultures where a man had the right to kill his adulterous wife and the man he caught her with.

Erik Goodwyn
Erik Goodwyn
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 4:20pm

When I say “ancestral” I mean foraging societies–hunter gatherers. Farming was introduced around 10,000 BC. The rest of the 99.5% of our 2 million years on this planet was as hunter gatherers. That is enough time for Natural selection to favor men to be obsessed with warfare, the hunt, and as you point out, mate guarding behavior. Sexual jealousy is more prevalent in males (animal and otherwise) in all cultures. Cults of virginity are another way of serving this basic emotional need.

My point is that the reason *why* young men seek glory is because in the ancestral environment, it promoted reproductive success. This is because of nothing less than female selectivity (remember Darwin was criticized for suggesting *females* direct mate selection). Like peacocks, males are rewarded for showy, competitive behavior. Why? Biology. Women invest far more time and biological resources on infants than men (who need about 4 minutes vs. 4 years). This imbalance rewards females who are very picky and men who are lusty and competitive, lest they commit genetic suicide by failing to get a mate.

Your argument about men being obsessed with paternal certainty supports my view: after all, WHY should men care? Because natural selection has hard wired us to care! And so do all other species who engage in paternal investment–tigers, for example, couldn’t care less. This is because tiger fathers don’t take part in infant care. But prairie vole fathers do, and they engage in mate guarding, like many birds.

My point is that culture does not dictate our deepest emotional needs and wants, evolution does. Culture follows biology–not the other way around!

Erik Goodwyn
Erik Goodwyn
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 4:24pm

Oh yeah, and if so many women think romance novels are crap, why are they so doggone popular? I agree that most are crap, but I’m just one person, and I’m talking about general trends in large populations.

bitchen frizzy
bitchen frizzy
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 5:00pm

(What does this have to do with the subject? Well, some on this thread were arguing for more complexity in characters’ motives, and I sympathize. Those people are not denying their biology. Rather, Hollywood is focusing on the young male demographic, so young males’ priorities are reflected. Or something.)

According to anthropologists, in hunter-gatherer times, the emphasis was very much on gathering. Hunters preferred – and still do prefer – relatively defenseless herbivores. Yes, men take on dangerous animals, but always either in large numbers or with weapons that give them a considerable edge. Young men that take foolish risks often exit the gene pool too early to have many progeny – there’s more to genetic success than wowing potential mates with strength and bravery. But then again, pack animals need an expendable class to put on the perimeter, so there’s a necessary tradeoff between discretion and valor. It’s more complicated than you make it. Like all pack animals, humans’ roles and behavior are stratified not just by gender but by age and status.

I agree, Erik, men do care a great deal about their paternity and mates. Another way of phrasing that – by word substitution – is that they care a great deal about their children and wives. That’s a change from what you were saying.

Culture and biology interact in evolution, both in humans and in other pack animals.

bitchen frizzy
bitchen frizzy
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 5:04pm

–“Oh yeah, and if so many women think romance novels are crap, why are they so doggone popular?”

Popular? If 0.5 percent of the population buys a book, it’s a bestseller. That makes it “popular” as defined by the industry. Millions of women read romance novels – they’re “popular.” That leaves tens of millions of women that do not.

Erik Goodwyn
Erik Goodwyn
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 7:00pm

You’re correct, I’m simplifying considerably. I agree with everything you’re saying about hunter/gatherers. But the fact remains that men are and always have been more concerned with social rank and hierarchy, as well as physical competition and rites of passage than women, and I argue that this is found in pack animals of all kinds, including humans (like wolves), and this translates into young men being perennially interested in spending lots of money watching super hero exploits.

And, like wolves, those put on the periphery are those who are *low* on the ranking scheme. Those who are high have access to more mates and choice food selections. But humans have an additional factor: organized warfare, which is as old as humanity. Even modern foraging societies have a higher rate of homicide than “civilized” cultures. This adds an additional intra-species competition factor that gives impetus to male competition and preoccupation with carnage and mayhem.

I’m not saying men don’t care about mates and children, just that women have the edge in these matters. And I have no idea what this has to do with the subject matter; I guess we all got sidetracked :)

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 8:41pm

My opinion is based on a lot of literature in the fields of evolutionary psychology, affective neuroscience, anthropology and comparative ethology

But even the conclusions of science have long been filtered through male perspectives… perspectives that have been shaped by perceived male dominance. There are facts — such as observed behaviors of animals (including humans; yes, I’m aware that we’re animals) — and then there are the interpretation of those facts. For example: a scientist sees a group of higher primates who organize themselves in multiples of females and one male. A human man who has grown up in a male-dominated society interprets this situation as a “harem” and gives the male animal an approving nudge-nudge, wink-wink. But mightn’t a female scientist from a culture in which women were dominant see this as an an example of a band of powerful females keeping one studly young male around for their sexual pleasure?

I’m just trying to say, Erik, that what you see as obvious and basic fact may not be so. Which means that what you see as a culture shaped by biology may, in fact, be more shaped by biased interpretations of that biology.

And this *does* have something to do with *Up.* So many people — male and female — see it as “normal” and “correct” that stories about men are universal while stories about women are “niche” that it rankles a lot of those people when others point out that this isn’t how it MUST be. And that’s why so many movies are about men and not about women, and unthinkingly so.

Ryan
Ryan
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 9:20pm

The anthropological comments on this thread are being simplified to a ridiculous level. Whether or not men were hunter/gatherers or farmers had a great deal more to do with geography, availability of large herd animals, and climate then with desire for status. I would direct you to the book ‘Guns Germs & Steel’ for a more thorough analysis on the topic.

Complaining that science has a male bias *may* be accurate, MaryAnn, but unfortunately it’s a non-starter in any argument. If you want to argue anything scientifically you have to look at data, facts, and research in the field. Today more women then men are graduating from college in America, so I would imagine that a large influx of women into different scientific fields will help dispel any bias that might exist. Until then you can’t just disregard science because it *might* contain a gender bias.

I still tend to disagree with the notion that there are so few strong female characters in film; from Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, to Trinity in the Matrix or La Femme Nikita, etc. etc. I could find thousands of films with strong central female characters that are NOT romances.

Is there still a disproportionate number of films featuring men? Of course, but then change never happens overnight, and as recently as the ’80s open misogyny was still very prevalent in many facets of America…and still exists in small pockets today.

I would anticipate that as more females take directors chairs, or act as producers and heads of movie studios in the future, that ratio will continue to shift. Also it would be helpful if there were more Anne Hathaways in the industry and less Lindsay Lohans. Bankable stars are more important to the industry than gender. (IE: Jody Foster or Julia Roberts will have an easier time pushing a product than Vince Vaughn or Sam Worthington)

I guess my main point is that we still haven’t reached some perfect point of equality (nor are we ever likely to…since perfect equality doesn’t exist. Some white males are rich, some poor, and same for women and every race) But the scales are tipping and it’s more important to be pro-active about supporting the projects of those enterprising women or minorities than assuming a position of victimhood, where everything is outside of your control.

JoshB
JoshB
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 9:27pm

a scientist sees a group of higher primates who organize themselves in multiples of females and one male. A human man who has grown up in a male-dominated society interprets this situation as a “harem”…But mightn’t a female scientist from a culture in which women were dominant see this as an an example of a band of powerful females keeping one studly young male around for their sexual pleasure?

Bwa? Sexual pleasure? Harem? A proper scientist of either sex from any culture will look for biological explanations for why there might be one male to many females. Erik’s posts showed no evidence of him getting vicarious jollies from the sexual exploits of our furry male brethren.

When he points out that reproduction requires more energy and time investment for females than for males that’s not a Discovery Channel themed Penthouse letter, it’s an objective fact.

Erik Goodwyn
Erik Goodwyn
Wed, Jun 03, 2009 10:44pm

Well it IS getting interesting in here isn’t it? To Ryan, I would say that hunter/gatherers are the default position for homo sapiens. Farming only came about 12000 years ago. Foraging, 2 million. Guns, Germs, Steel is ok, but I would direct you to “the Innate Mind” ed. Caruthers, or Buss’ Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, both 2005.

To MJ, I’m aware of deconstructionist criticisms of science, but I’m not sure how to address them *scientifically*, since they’re not falsifiable strictly speaking. But you’re right, it is very important to keep in mind one’s personal bias, male or female. I would say that one of the leaders of evolutionary psychology is Leda Cosmides–a female, and a brilliant one at that. Incidentally, why do you think a man would get excited about “harems”–doesn’t it prove the point that men are far more interested in massive polygyny than women are polyandry?

Also, I’m not convinced that everyone things stories about men are universal but women are “niche” property. Could you give me some reasons you think this is so?

Tonio Kruger
Thu, Jun 04, 2009 1:47pm

SPOILERS

I was waiting for Carl to say or show somehow that he was sorry that Ellie was forced to make a choice between her dream and a life with him.

Well, first of all, it seemed obvious that Ellie was the aggressive one in that relationship. It also seemed obvious that no one made Ellie do anything she didn’t want to do.

Moreover, it seemed obvious that the reason Ellie and Carl deferred their dream for so long is because they wished to go there together–and could not afford to do so. Maybe it would have helped if Ellie had worked–and for all we know, maybe she did so offscreen. After all, Ellie didn’t seem like the type of character who allowed herself to be forced to do anything she didn’t want to do. (And I’ve met women in real life who were just that type.)

Anyway, since they both had dreams of going to South America, why perceive Ellie as having to choose between her dream and life with Carl? Once again I’ve met women in real-life who have had conflicting dreams–one of whom was my favorite cousin–so Ellie seemed in a win-win situation by comparison if for no other reason that her beloved Carl actually shared her dream and made no attempt to belittle or downplay it.

But, hey, your mileage obviously varies.

And here, I thought the worst complaints anyone would have about the movie would be:

1. The lack of actual South Americans in a movie that mostly takes place in South America.

2. The fact that our protagonist spends so much time running from the dogs when it would seem much easier for him to climb into the floating house and fly away.

Anyway, I liked it–but not as much as I did Ratouille. Perhaps because I had seen that movie with my own equivalent of Ellie. Only my “Ellie” wasn’t a redhead…