The glorious late summer is here, and with it came a unique experience – a family trip to the cinema to see a movie that's worth your time -- the remarkable 3D animated feature 'Up'
If you haven't seen it, then please stop reading, as I'm about to spoil it remorselessly.
The movie opens with our protagonists, Charles and Ellie, as children, planning to visit darkest South America as explorers. Ellie has made a scrapbook of everything they'll do there, with most the pages blank – ready to be filled in with exploits of their adventures
Ellie is everything that Charles is not, and vice versa. She is outgoing and full of life, never afraid of what others think, and wildly imaginative. Charles is sweet, kind and insular, and together they make the perfect double act. So perfect, that in a blink of an eye years have passed and they're getting married.
They live the best life they could possibly live. Tragically they aren't able to have children, and in the heart wrenching climax to this opening 20 minutes or so, years fly by, Ellie ages and passes away, before Charles is able to make their childhood dream of visiting darkest South America a reality.
Charles is now Mr. Fredricksen, an old man living alone, with only the memories of his beloved wife for company. Here's the first place that we see a movie not afraid to make a statement that is both wise and unpopular, in that it highlights our attitudes to the elderly. This isn't the major point I want to discuss, but it's a very important one that should give us all pause for thought.
We have a tendency nowadays to disregard the elderly and the contribution they can make to our lives. We seem all too eager to overlook the breadth of their knowledge and experience because they can't use an iPod. Of course, this isn't universal -- my grandmother has her own Facebook page and is about to celebrate her 90th birthday -- but so what if it is? Just because someone doesn't fully embrace all our technological toys, doesn't mean that they are not deserving of our respect.
Back to the movie: The house that Mr. Fredricksen's shared with Ellie has become a shrine to her memory, and in a wonderful act of defiance against this empty world he now finds himself living in, he launches his house into the sky with the aid of thousands of balloons, on a quest to get to the South American falls.
"Thank you for giving me my dream - now go and get one for yourself."
After s series of adventures the house finally arrives at its destination, and he sits alone and opens Ellie's old scrapbook she made as a child to record their South American adventures, and turns to its first blank page, ready to fill it in.
But its already been filled in -- with snap shots from with his life with Ellie, and at the end there's a posthumous note saying 'Thank you for giving me my dream - now go and get one for yourself.'
This I feel is the crux of the movie -- Mr. Fredricksen has held on so tightly to the literal definition of Ellie's dream that he lost sight of the point -- not to visit the wild's of South America but have a fantastic life, to live life it to its fullest.
Right now, we're in the month of Elul, in which it's traditional to spend time preparing for the High Holy days. In these next days we literally create our forthcoming year. This should be a time of introspection for all of us, and we could all do well to learn from Mr. Fredricksen. By clinging on too tightly to what we think we want, we can miss getting what we truly desire when life throws it at us.
At this time of year we could all take some time to analyze what it is that we really want from life. It's so easy to resolutely follow paths that have become outdated.
My Rosh Yeshivah, Rabbi Noach Weinberg, of blessed memory, had a fantastic allegory to this. He would ask are you eating to live or living to eat?
Of course, everyone answers that they eating to live, to which the Rosh Yeshivah would ask, so what are you doing with your life right now, and the conversation would normally go something like this:
"Well, I'm studying at school"
"So I can get into a good college"
"That's great, but why?"
"So I can get a good degree"
"Marvelous, why are you doing that?"
"So I can get a good job"
"That's a good thing to do, but why do you want that"
"So I can make a good salary"
"Most people would want that, but why do you"
"So I can afford to put food on the table"
"OK, but it sounds like you're living to eat, and not eating to live then"
Having a good academic career and professional lives are all very important -- but we can always get lost in the pursuit of goals, and lose focus on the real goal of one's life, whatever that might be.
This is a time of year when we shouldn't be afraid to question any of your assumptions upon which your values and goals are based. This is a time of year to knock over all your ant hills in life and not be afraid to start again. Where do you really want to launch yourself this coming new year?
This is the time of year we want to move 'UP'!