Erickson’s 8th Stage of Life: as depicted in Disney/Pixar’s Movie UP
Aging and End of Life Issues
Dr. A. Herring
October 23, 2010
After the death of his wife Ellie, Carl Fredrickson and young stowaway Wilderness Explorer Russell begin a journey to fulfill Carl’s childhood dreams of visiting Paradise Falls in South America. They begin this adventure in a balloon driven house. Throughout this journey Erickson’s 8 Stages of life are examined as well as the theme of compassion and connection to the past, with the present and a very unexpected future for them both. Add to this mix a talking dog named Dug, a rare bird named Kevin, and a villain Named Charles F. Muntz. UP is a movie about aging and empowerment through following ones dreams, facing the illusions of one’s heroes and then becoming one through human connections.
Erickson’s 8th Stage of Life: as depicted in Disney/Pixar’s Movie UP
“Was the trip worth it?” Erickson’s 8th Stage of Life is a complex and reflective reassessment on one’s life where the individual must face many losses such as friends and relatives, often the elderly are forced out of their homes and lose control of their own lives. Erickson’s theory alludes to a healthy ratio or balance in acceptance of the crisis that occur in each stage of life between the two opposing dispositions that represent each crisis (Chapman, 2009, table 1). This paper examines the movie UP as seen through a study of Erickson’s psychosocial theory. Examining Carl and Muntz, the two elderly main characters in UP, through the profile of Stage 8, Integrity v Despair. The first word integrity, describes stage 8 referring to the basic virtue or named strength of potential outcomes from each crisis one faces. The second despair, reflects the maladaptation or malignancy that can occur in the path to finding balance and acceptance in one’s life.
The Stage 8 is a time in which the elderly must face their changing place in society and their meaning and purpose for their life’s achievements in regards to their relationships and personal issues. Erickson believed that Stage 8 relates to maturity covering late adulthood age 65 years to death. The pivotal experience or important event in Stage 8 is found in the reflection and acceptance of one’s life as a whole and preparation for acceptance of one’s own death.
According to Erikson, achieving a sense of integrity means fully accepting oneself and coming to terms with the death. Accepting responsibility for your life and being able to undo the past and achieve satisfaction with self is essential. The inability to do this results in a feeling of despair (“Erickson”, 2009).
Disney/Pixar’s Movie UP is an animated adventure called by Ed Asner a “coming of old age movie” (Kerr, 2009). Asner is the voice of main character Carl Fredrickson. Disney explores Ageism in a positive way, the losses and triumphs that are faced by the elderly. The movie was given thumbs down by Wall Street’s financial analysts fearing a story featuring a cranky senior citizen and his misfit Asian American friend (Dowling, 2009) would not produce enough spin-off sales of toys and t-shirts to provide enough income and the movie would flop. The movie despite Wall Streets’ fear of Ageism has proven to be the third highest ranking movie in the Disney/Pixar catalog earning over 293 million dollars on ticket sales alone (“UP”, 2009).
The story line is simple Carl Frederickson is being edged out of his home by developers who want to destroy his house and build a shopping mall. This house has been his home for many years; it is the place where he and his wife Ellie spent a happy lifetime. It is the spot where they kept their childhood dreams of becoming world explorers. It is the place he met Ellie and faced life’s little annoyances as well as shared their biggest dreams.
Carl and Ellie spend their lives selling balloons at the local zoo and saving for their unrealized fantasy trip to Paradise Falls in South America. After Elli’s death there is an unfortunate confrontation with a clumsy construction worker. The court deems Carl an unstable menace and files action to have him committed to a nursing home. On the eve of his evection, Carl reviews their life together through memories in their comfortable chairs, photo albums and home movies. He reminisces on the day Ellie awarded him the spirit of adventure badge, a grape soda bottle cap affixed with a safety pin to his shirt. It is then he hatches his plan to escape.
Carl attaches thousands of balloons to his house and makes a clean getaway, or so he thinks. He watches the house crest the buildings in his neighborhood and rise high above the life he is working hard to leave behind. Just as he is settling down ready to ride the house to parts unknown; he hears a knock at the door. It is young eight year old Russell the Wilderness Explorer, the annoying kid from down the block, who must assist an elderly person to complete his final lapel badge and become a Senior Wilderness Explorer. Reluctantly, Carl lets the boy inside.
Until now Carl has been experiencing the last and final stage of Erickson’s 8 Stages of Life Integrity vs. Despair a time in a person’s life when older adults need to look back on life and feel a sense of fulfillment. Success at this stage leads to feelings of wisdom and fulfillment, about his life which will enable him to cope. The elderly who is unable to face the challenges of this stage will feel failure resulting in regret, bitterness, and despair (About, 2010). He is experiencing loss of loved one and loss of place. He has examined his life and regrets that he and Ellie had no children, and worked fervently towards their unrequited dreams. Now as a widower he begins to regret his life. He is facing loss of freedom and choice he feels all hope seems lost. Carl is perhaps euphoric in his thinking and really doesn’t care where he goes in his balloon house as long as he has control of the strings. He knows from being a balloon man that he has three days of freedom before the helium gives out. Just long enough for his last and final adventure before he is taken to the old folk’s home.
Then like Dorothy in the Wizard of OZ a thunderstorm whisks the house within sight of Paradise Falls, landing the house with in hovering distance of the ground. Carl is able to tether himself to the house with the dangling garden hose. In his youthful wisdom Russell suggests they walk the house along the cliffs to the falls like a parade balloon. Carl knowing that they have only a few days of helium left in the balloons to walk the balloon along the cliff, through jungles and more adventures. Here Russell expresses the 3rd of Erickson’s stages, Latency, or Industry vs. Inferiority, which occurs between ages 6 to 12 years. He is able to imagine, to broaden his skills through active play of all sorts, including fantasy to cooperate with others and to lead as well as to follow (“Erickson”, 2009).
It is essential for the child at this stage to discover pleasure in being productive and the need to succeed. The child’s relationship with peers in school and the neighborhood become increasingly important (“Erickson”, 2009).
During the journey, they meet Dug a dog with an electronic collar that allows him to communicate with humans. They discover Kevin, a mother bird protecting her chicks and the villainous Charles F Muntz explorer and adventuring hero of Carl’s youth.
Charles F. Muntz is not only Carl’s childhood hero he is a brilliant inventor, scientist and adventurer. Muntz explores the world in a dirigible named Spirit of Adventure. It is the romance of the great airship that propels Carl and his childhood sweetheart Ellie to grand dreams of adventure that were out of reach for the couple, and has recently inspired Carl to send his house aloft.
Meanwhile, Charles Muntz, dishonored by collogues in the beginning of the movie due to claims of fraud over the discovery of a giant exotic bird species. Muntz vows to return to Paradise Falls to capture the bird alive, only then will he return to clear his name. As luck would have it Kevin and her chicks are the last remaining living members of this rare exotic bird species.
Muntz exhibits Erickson’s 8th stage as the, negative and despairing aspects of maturity (Erickson, n.d.). Muntz’s quest for the rare bird and loss of status and integrity within the scientific community and the National Explorer’s Society has left him bitter. Here Muntz expresses the despair of Erickson’s unresolved issues in stage 8. He has isolated himself in his floating science lab with his faithful army of talking dogs. His obsession with finding the rare bird Kevin and her chicks has driven him mad with a kind of gold fever. Muntz admits his paranoia and reveals that he has killed several wandering humans out of his fear of losing his discovery to them. Now that Russell has admitted to taming his elusive bird and named it Kevin, Carl becomes Muntz’s next target.
Russell and Dug risk their lives to save Kevin and her chicks setting the stage for Muntz and Carl to duel in a battle to the death. Muntz with his dog army begins a raging battle with the mighty well armed dirigible against Carl, Russell, the bird and a talking dog named Dug, and their defenseless floating balloon house.
Carl’s quick wittedness turns the tables saving Dug, Kevin and Russell. Muntz falls from the house and with the aid of a few balloons floats in to oblivion beneath the clouds. Carl and Russell return Kevin to her chicks. Aboard the spirit of adventure Carl and the dog army make the Spirit of Adventure a lighter than air home. Russell returns home to accept his final Wilderness Explorers lapel badge for aiding the Elderly.
Russell stands on the stage alone feeling obvious and ashamed, as the fathers of the other boys award their son their badges. Russell’s guilt expresses the negative side of Erickson’s Stage 3, Industry vs. Inferiority when difficulty with the child’s ability to move between the world at home and the world of peers can lead to feeling of inferiority (Erickson, 2009). Carl with some flutter announces “Old Man coming through” and shuffles across the stage to award Russell the Aiding the Elderly badge. Carl instead substitutes his own grape soda bottle cap badge his wife had bestowed upon him when he was the boys age. The highest honor he can bestow on the boy, the Ellie Badge.
Throughout the film loss is a background issue, as Carl loses his beloved Ellie and faces frightening events. He draws comfort from his possessions and the comfort of his home and memories of his wife, all of which he loses during the movie.
It is Ellie’s memory album, adventure book with a page entitled Stuff I’m Going To Do that aids Carl in cresting the challenges he is facing. The first few pages are the notes and news paper clippings about their unrealized childhood dreams of heading off for parts unknown following the footsteps of their hero Charles F. Muntz and his dirigible Spirit of Adventure. It is what Carl finds in the back pages of, Ellie’s Adventure Book, the Photo Album that gives him strength. Ellie chronicles their lives together in photos showing the happy moments. Her last entry is a note telling Carl “Now go have an adventure.” Carl is given new hope and strength through Ellie’s memories and their life well spent. His life has achieved the 8 stage’s integrity.
Muntz on the other hand has sequestered himself away in a bitter paranoid world reflecting his losses and regrets over his life. He exhibits distain for his past. He wants to exact revenge on a life that has not been forgiving to him. He has lived alone with his talking dog army and wants to return to the glory of his youth as world explorer. His life reflects the negative aspects of Erickson’s 8 stage, despair and distain.
Not all of the losses of the two main characters Carl and Muntz are ephemeral. The issue of loss of mobility and energy that accompanies aging was shown during the duel between the villain Muntz and Carl in the dirigible. Even though the duel between the pair shows the side effects of aging in humorous ways such as getting kinks in their backs and losing breath at inopportune times during the duel, it was not presented in an unexpected or negative way.
Instead Carl shows the drive and conviction of the elder generation continuing the good fight when it would have been as easy to walk away leaving Kevin, Russell and Dug to their fate at the hands of Muntz.
Pets begin to play a role as reflections of the two main characters, although it is a small message in the movie. Dug the talking dog is ostracized by the pack as slow and dim witted, but loyal. He befriends Carl and Russell narrating the subtle plot changes, tying in the importance of Kevin as a mother bird and the object of desire for Muntz’s quest. The talking Dog Army reinforces the aloofness of Muntz’s isolation that is indicative of the negative aspects of Erickson’s 8th stage, presumption and disdain.
Dug the talking dog plays one more important role, he narrates the journey that Carl Fredrickson is taking during this stage of his life, namely the acceptance of his wife’s death and a renewed will to recover from the losses he has experienced and a new since of purpose as fiend to Russell the now Senior Wilderness Explorer.
UP as its name implies uplifts the viewer in the light comedy of the relationship of Carl and Russell a young fatherless boy on their amazing adventure. The movie UP not only deals with the issues of loss, grief, and recovery the usual themes of movies associated with aging. It reflects the continuity of life from childhood through adulthood and the eventual crisis of aging. However, they are not dealt with in a heavy heart wrenching way as in movies like on Golden Pond, Winter Solstice, and Driving Miss Daisy. The issues of positive self acceptance and the affects of positive adaption to the changing events in one’s life were the redeeming values in this movie.
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