When Life Gives You Infertility, Make Your House Fly: Found Family in ‘UP’

Carl and Ellie in their home
This is a guest post written by Talia Liben Yarmush for our theme week on Infertility, Miscarriage, and Infant Loss.

Pixar’s UP begins with young Carl, an adventure-admiring, imaginative boy meeting his match in young Ellie. The two hit it off instantly with their shared interest in everything adventure, and the first eleven and a half minutes are an ode to their lifelong mutual devotion to each other. They become fast friends; they fall in love, marry, and build a life together. The only thing missing? After Ellie suffers a miscarriage, the two are immeasurably saddened by the loss of this baby. In an attempt to fill the void, Carl establishes an “Adventure Fund,” so that together they may one day be able to live what they always dreamed. However, with each passing year comes a new obstacle, requiring them to deplete their funds over and over again. Until one day, Ellie, old and weak, dies. And Carl is left alone with sadness and regret at not giving Ellie her big adventure. When I saw UP in the theater, I was sitting next to my husband, a man I met when I was 14, became best friends with, married, and was now going through infertility treatments with. So, this intro hit pretty close to home.

As I see it, the two infertility themes in this story are miscarriage and living childfree. Despite my vast experience with infertility, I am not personally familiar with either of these. I have, thankfully, never had a miscarriage (although during one very painful episode of endometrial bleeding, my husband and I were sure that I was in the midst of one), and thanks to IVF, I now have two sons. I can tell you that the first theme, miscarriage, is shown in only seconds, and it is a scene that will remain with you throughout the entire film. In thirty seconds, this animated family film is able to portray the loss in such a visceral way that even if you have never had an experience like it, you will be brought to tears. And I can tell you that the second theme, living childfree, is complicated and filled with mixed emotions. Carl, tormented by his inability to give his wife what she wanted, finally realizes by the end of the film that Ellie’s life with him was her adventure, and that she was happy with it. Many couples must make the difficult decision whether to keep trying, to continue fertility treatments, to hope that the next cycle works, that the next pregnancy sticks, to attempt adoption, or to somehow find a way to come to terms with a life without children. Some couples make this decision. But for some, the decision is made for them.

Carl and Ellie prepare the nursery for their baby
The question is what to do once that decision has been made. Once an infertile couple mourns the loss of a life without children and finds peace with their new reality, can the void ever be filled by something or someone else? Ellie, as we learn, was happy and satisfied with the life she lived with Carl. But once Ellie died, Carl was left alone. No children. Just memories and unfounded regret. Until he meets Russell. Russell reminds Carl of the boy he once was, and of the girl he married. He reminds him of the family he wanted with Ellie, and of the adventures they’d hoped to go on. Some view Russell as the child that Carl never had. In fact, we find out that Russell himself has an absent father, so Russell was searching for a father just as much as Carl was searching for a son. But I don’t see it in those terms. Russell is a friend, he is a companion, he is a playmate. Russell is Carl’s family. Because we don’t always get to live the life that we had planned. But we do get to choose a great many things. We can choose to keep on fighting for what we want. Or we can choose to make peace with the lives that we have. And, most importantly, we can choose our family, even if we can’t create them ourselves.

Talia Liben Yarmush is a freelance writer and editor. She is also an infertile mother who writes her own blog, The Accidental Typist.

One Comment

  • Posted April 28, 2013 at 1:39 am | Permalink

    Nice piece– really enjoy the way that you re-frame the outlook of the movie!