Carl is wearing the same outfit as the last shot, helping us put together the timing of events. This is what happened after they came home from seeing the Doctor.
In a montage that has moved so quickly through their lives, this is a very small amount of time to pass during a cut.
This shot repeats the use of a frame within the frame that we saw in the previous shot. Carl is framed by the window, centering him on screen. There’s also use of shadow to focus your attention, with both the darkness of the house behind him and the shadows of the tree branches swaying in front of him drawing your eye to his face.
Think about those lighting choices. The shadows from the hospital hallway have followed them home.
Consider the stillness of this shot. So much of this montage has been about motion and energy. The characters and/or the camera have been in almost constant motion, but here we see only hints that it’s not a still image. The shadows of the leaves. Carl’s eyes.
So much of their enthusiasm and joy has been expressed through motion. Here, we see the opposite: Sadness is shown through stillness.
Also consider how this is one of the few shots we’ve had so far that only focuses on one person. Carl isn’t just framed by the window, but he’s separated from Ellie by the glass. The shot visually isolates Carl.
A reverse angle on our previous shot. Let’s look at what’s staying the same.
There’s still very little motion. We now have Ellie’s hair moving with the breeze, just like the leaves. Carl stands still. Ellie sits still. The camera doesn’t move.
There’s still a use of frames within frames and masking the shot using shadows. Now we have shadows inside the house and over part of Carl’s back, focusing our attention on his view of Ellie. And look at the way the window frames her: It’s slightly askew.
Carl was framed straight on, but this use of oddly diagonal framing, along with the diagonals of Ellie’s shadow, the tree in the yard, and the window frame all combine to create a sense of disorientation. We are visually disturbed in a way that mimics how the characters are emotionally disturbed.
Consider the way we were slowly brought to this moment. One shot had visual momentum with a moving camera that brought us to the tight frame around the doctor’s office. The next shot was static, but as straight on as the view into the Doctor’s office. Now we have the same visual language used, but twisted.
It’s a gentle progression, showing us the pain, but not doing so in a way that abruptly distracts us from the characters to give more attention to the visual technique.
While paying attention to what’s the same and what’s different, don’t forget to pay attention to Ellie’s hair. This is the first time we’ve seen it down in this montage. Every other shot has it tied back, including when the Doctor is talking to her.
The ellipsis implies that in the time between the appointment with the doctor and going outside, she took down her hair.
The resonance of this decision relates back to our understanding of the character. She’s a go-getter. She’s always in motion. But here, she’s static. Stunned. She’s been confronted with something that she can’t overcome with enthusiasm and hard work.
And so she’s let her hair down and feels it blowing in the breeze, like the leaves. At the mercy of other forces.
Also, take note of those leaves. It’s Autumn again. Autumn is a double-edged sword, where right now we’re seeing the idea that it’s about entropy, loss, and the death of Ellie’s dream. But let’s not forget that Carl and Ellie moved into their home in Autumn. It’s a time of preparing for renewal…
We’re seeing a return to normalcy both in cinematography and in our characters.
Carl goes out to Ellie, reconnecting with her after two shots where they were separated visually and physically.
The shot is once again framing the action with straight lines. Ellie’s posture. The fence behind her. The vertical lines of the houses in the background. Our moment of dischord with the diagonal window frame has passed, and the dramatic action will tie in to this attempt to return a sense of order.
Also, let’s look at Ellie’s dress. Like Carl, she’s still in the outfit she wore to the Doctor’s office. It’s another of her prints, but this one is autumnal, covered in falling leaves. It’s keeping the viewer aware of the importance of seasonal change and time passing using the character herself.
The blocking of the characters is setting us up for the next shot. Carl is looking down at something out of frame to lead us to the cut, and a reveal in the next shot that will answer the question: “What did he bring out with him?”
Ellie’s Adventure Book from when they first met. The one with the original drawing of the house that they renovated.
This is a good time to talk about externalizing the internal.
The biggest difficulty with expressing emotion on the screen as opposed to the page is that there are barriers to directly telling the audience what a character is thinking or feeling. We’re watching them from outside instead of experiencing the story from inside their heads.
That’s why you need moments like this, when an object can stand for an idea and an action can convey a desire.
Carl isn’t just giving her the book, he’s trying to renew her desire for adventure. He’s bringing her back a physical piece of the childhood joy that first united them.
And maybe it’s not just solid visual storytelling. Maybe it’s a good suggestion to us all. In times of hardship, actions speak louder than words. What we do to care for each other has more power than words alone.
Let’s not forget to consider the relationship dynamic. Carl is driving for a moment. Ellie is the one taking a more static, passive role. Give and take. Push and pull.
When one of them steps back, the other steps up.
It’s about the subtle looks. The moments when you can see the characters thinking. Processing. We could cut quickly from Carl handing Ellie back her Adventure Book to the next shot, but it would create narrative expediency at the loss of emotional clarity.
The strongest emotional charge in this moment isn’t Carl giving Ellie the book back. It’s how Ellie reacts to that action.
Carl’s action is a question. Ellie’s reaction is the answer.
Again, the frame is static, but we have motion from the characters. They’re looking up to each other. Up from the book to each other’s faces.
Up, people. They’re looking up.
Am I saying it was necessarily done with the title in mind? That this is an obvious bit of symbolism? No. But it’s fun to think about it.
Why is the direction up so important to be the title? Is this the place we should talk about it? About lightness? About escaping the bonds of gravity? About reaching for something higher?
Up is about striving, just like how flight is about striving to conquer one of the most basic natural laws. Just like how people with a heavy burden are looking to lighten it.
They look up and see each other. They look up and they’re ready to start striving for a new adventure.
Let’s start with motion: Our camera is moving again, pulling back from a detail to a larger scene. The detail? Putting their house on top of a cliff at Paradise Falls.
Think about that image, not just for what it’s foreshadowing in the story, but how they’re depicting their plans for us to interpret. It’s not a picture of the two of them taking a vacation to Paradise Falls, it’s moving their house. They want to live this adventure for more than just a week.
And they’re representing their life together with the house. A physical, tangible representation of their connection. A dream they made real. The house now stands in for Carl and Ellie which will be important later on when we see how Carl clings to the house.
Let’s look at Ellie. Her hair is tied back again. She wants to get stuff done, and she’s back to her old self. And she’s painting. Ellie is the more visual of these two. She painted their mailbox. She drew the plan for their house. She painted the nursery, and now she paints this wall. Even the way she describes the clouds and they form themselves into her description… This is a character who turns dreams into tangible, visual expressions.
Look at the props on the mantle. Carl takes one of the zepplins that was in the nursery and places it on the mantle. A sign of the transformation of one dream into another. A reminder as well as a signpost for the way forward. Also, Ellie nudges the bird on the mantle into place.
Ellie and birds, Carl and balloons. Repetition of objects to tie these characters in our minds to these objects. When you see balloons, you should think about Carl. When you see birds, think of Ellie.
And let’s not forget the picture on the center of the mantle. It’s Ellie as a kid with her aviator cap on. This is a childhood dream that they’re going to attempt to accomplish as adults.
One last note. Look on the right hand side as the shot pulls back. That’s Carl’s chair. There’s a strong sense of space throughout this montage, making sure we know where we are and reminding us of the emotional resonance of these spaces.
The house is important to Carl because of all the life spent in it. By making sure we are aware of the particularities of this space, the movie is attempting to have us create associations between place and emotion alongside him.