October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.
Today: The 2009 movie Up, screenplay by Bob Peterson and Pete Docter, story by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson and Thomas McCarthy. IMDB plot summary:
To avoid being taken away to a nursing home, an old widower tries to fly his home to Paradise Falls, South America, along with a Boy Scout who accidentally lifted off with him.
Carl (Ed Asner) has achieved his Want: To transport the house he and Ellie shared for so many years to Paradise Falls.
Normally if you mention the words “great scene” and the movie Up in one sentence, people will immediately chime in with this:
Yes, that is stellar storytelling. But the mini-story of Carl and Ellie’s married life is a setup for the scene I have spotlighted above. Carl has made it. He’s fulfilled his promise to Ellie. He has won.
However it is a Pyrrhic victory, filled with emptiness, a reality visualized by the shots chosen in the scene. No sound. Lots of space. And the lonely presence of Ellie’s chair.
Then the picture book. It is a little story itself told in three parts:
Beginning: Carl looks at photos of he and Ellie as children, images of Paradise Falls.
Emotion: Sadness that his wife is not here to share the experience of achieving her dream.
Turn: Carl discovers new photos.
Middle: Carl flips through photos of his marriage through their adult years.
Emotion: Surprise tinged with sadness.
Turn: “Thanks for the adventure – now go have a new one! Love, Ellie”
End: Carl picks up Russell’s merit badge, looks at Ellie’s chair… then crosses his heart.
Such a fantastic scene because in effect – from beyond the grave – Ellie has given Carl her blessing to be with a new member of the ‘family': Russell. Functionally, he is a surrogate for Ellie. And now when he crosses his heart, Carl is making a new pledge, a new Want: To retrieve Russell. Which sets up the rest of Act Three.
I adore this movie. How about you?
To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here.If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!