Logically, this is a silly way to save for a vacation. It would take an absurdly long time to save up for a South American trip using loose change.
Think about the audience. Kids get the idea of saving up small bits of money. It’s like a piggy bank. It’s quick visual shorthand that makes their choices easier to understand than them sitting down with a calculator and budgeting out their expenses.
Also, it’s setting up further conflict to come by making it a clear glass jar. We’ll be able to see the money as it accumulates and judge how close they are to their goal based on how full the jar is.
Labels are important. It’s not just a vacation jar, but “Paradise Falls.” The movie wants you to keep that name in mind. Burn it into your brain with the repetition. We are headed to Paradise Falls. We are going to make it to Paradise Falls.
Should we take an aside to talk about that name?
Paradise – An idealized place. A state of perfection. If you want to go with the Christian Biblical tradition, it’s the place Adam & Eve lived before the fall.
Falls – In this case, it specifically refers to a waterfall, but let’s think about falling. Succumbing to gravity. The opposite of heading up. It can even mean that a place succumbs to invasion or is defeated.
Put them together as a phrase and it sounds a little less idyllic. Paradise falls. An idealized place succumbs to an inevitable decline.
The name builds in the tone that this adventure will take, but disguises it in a tourism advertisement ready name.
The movie needs to show they’re making a promise without words in a way that will be understood by all ages. So they cross their hearts.
It’s also a callback to Ellie making Carl swear that he’d take them to Paradise Falls when they were children. An echo of that childhood promise the same way so many aspects of their adult lives are shaped by the dreams of their childhood.
Look at the framing of Ellie. The change jar is in front of her. The mural and Paradise Falls related knick knacks are behind her.
You can even catch sight of her picture as a child on the mantle, creating a sense that there are two Ellies in this shot: past and present.
Also look at the way Carl and Ellie are in the shot together. We see a clear line of sight from Ellie to Carl, setting up the reverse shot we’re about to cut to, but it’s also making another clear declaration by putting them together in the frame.
This is a story about the two of them together, so we need to put them together in the frame as much as possible.
Carl returns the gesture to Ellie, but look at the framing. Carl is isolated, cut off from Ellie.
Carl is making a promise to fulfill the journey to Paradise Falls, and the movie is already telling us that he’ll be making this journey without her.
Look at the curtains behind him. Autumn leaves. Remember the importance of seasonal change in this montage. Remember that Ellie was wearing an autumnal dress when they saw the Doctor. Keep it in mind for future shots of Autumn leaves.
Shots 37, 38, & 39
Three quick shots, making use of the clear jar to show us Carl and Ellie’s progress toward their goal.
Also consider how the quick cuts are used to compress time. While the scene shifts lighting to make it look like we’re changing time of day, the outfits and the amount of change in the jar suggests that many days are passing.
Look at the use of motion in these shots. The camera appears to be continuously pulling back from the jar even though the shots are cutting from one day to another. This is helping to establish the notion that these separate shots are part of a progression toward a single goal.
Remember, the language of this montage equates motion with positive momentum toward Ellie & Carl’s goals.
While the camera move keeps things related, Carl and Ellie cross in opposite directions. This contrasting physical action within the frame aids audience awareness of the cuts and avoids creating an exhausting sense of repetition, even though each shot is the same basic action: adding change to the jar.
Notice how shot 37 uses the return of Ellie’s Autumn leaves dress. We’re not only holding on to the painful memory driving this new endeavor, but we’re also keeping certain elements grounded for the viewer. Pay attention to clothing. These are real people with a limited wardrobe. Their clothes are not going to change dramatically every couple of weeks.
We’re really moving now. The motion of the characters is tracking from left to right, and the background moves toward the left behind them. The way the camera frames it, the characters are static and the world is moving past.
There’s joy in this motion, and we feel a sense, buoyed off the previous shots, that Carl & Ellie are making progress toward their new goal.
Look at the joy in their actions. Carl says something funny and smiles. Ellie throws back her head and laughs. It’s a good time to be them.
But then the camera tilts down to focus on the tire. The camera move, unmotivated by a dramatic action we’re aware of, is a signal that something is about to happen. It’s priming our reaction. Up to this point, every camera motion and cut has been purposeful, so it’s not going to show us the tire just to appreciate the tire.
There’s a slight pause as the camera settles on the tire before it blows. It lets the audience feel that sense of apprehension in the motion of the camera. We feel that tug of “something bad is about to happen,” which wouldn’t be part of our experience if the shot only revealed the tire after it went flat.
While it may seem like this is just a slice of life moment for Ellie and Carl, the next shot will tie this moment in with their larger goals and set the rhythm for the next several shots.
This shot explains why the last shot matters. We saw them saving money. We saw them get a flat tire. Now we see the effect of that flat tire on their goal. They have limited resources, and those resources now need to be diverted from a long term goal (Paradise Falls) to a short term, urgent goal (Getting A New Tire).
Did they have to smash the jar with a hammer? No.
But is it a strong visual?
Think about the impact it adds to the moment. They’re feeling emotionally broken by having to delay their dream, and this is externalized through breaking the glass change jar. Shaking change out of the narrow opening of the jar would achieve the same plot result, but it wouldn’t have the same emotional resonance.
The hammer smash is quick and jarring, like the flat tire itself.
It also adds another layer to the choice of a glass jar as their change container. First it was useful because we could see their progress toward their goal. Now it’s useful because of its fragility.
This is what we get for breaking the jar and taking money away from pursuing the dream of Paradise Falls: a new tire.
Carl’s happy about the tire, grinning and giving it a little pat. He’s pleased with his work putting the new tire on. But look at the shot.
The frame is static. Carl and Ellie aren’t moving toward their larger goal, and the camera isn’t moving, either. Keep that in mind as we watch the upcoming shots.
We’ve moved from the previous shot of Carl fixing a problem with the flat tire to Carl in another pickle.
We don’t see how his leg was broken, and we don’t need to. The narrative trajectory we’re on with this sequence of the montage involves the attempt to fill the Paradise Falls jar and the problems that get in the way.
This is a problem getting in the way, as we’ll see with the next shot.
Again, notice how shots that don’t contain positive narrative momentum also lack visual momentum. It’s a static setup with little motion.
The broken leg was an unplanned expense, and they need to get the money to pay for it. There goes Paradise Falls…
Look how low the change is in the jar. It tells us how shortly after the flat tire this next emergency occurred.
Look at the framing of the shot. We don’t need to see Carl & Ellie’s reactions to breaking the jar because we’ve seen them do it once. Now the hammer coming down on the jar can stand in for the entire moment. The broken glass and quick, violent strike of the hammer stand in for their feelings that their pursuit of their goal has met with a sudden, crushing obstacle.
We know how they feel without having to see how they feel. That only works because the previous shots have laid the groundwork for us to connect with their hopes and fears so completely.
Again, we have a static shot portending another setback for Ellie & Carl’s dream trip to Paradise Falls. There’s motion in the shot, from the rain and wind in the trees, but the framing itself remains locked in place.
Let’s talk about escalation.
First setback: The truck gets a flat tire.
Second setback: Carl breaks his leg.
Third setback: Their roof gets smashed by a falling tree.
Each one of these problems is more shocking and costly than the one before. It’s not just a string of random problems of varying degree. There’s an increasing sense of frustration.
Not only are the objective circumstances increasingly difficult to deal with, but they have an increasing sense of emotional resonance.
We’ve never seen their truck before, so it doesn’t matter that much if it gets a flat tire.
We like Carl, so it’s more emotionally engaging to see him directly suffer an injury.
But the house. This is something we’ve watched them renovate together. Something that has a lot of emotional weight attached to it. A tree damaging that house means something because of how much the creation of that home meant to Carl and Ellie.
And we should remember this moment throughout the film as Carl works to protect this home, seeing it as a physical connection to Ellie.
We’ve developed a rhythm. Money Goes In Jar -> Disaster strikes -> Jar Gets Smashed -> Repeat
This shot changes up what side of the jar Carl is standing on when he brings the hammer down to keep things visually fresh, even though it’s repeating a narrative beat.
Look at how much change is in that jar. It’s telling us both how expensive the roof repair will be, but also showing how much closer they were to acheiving their goal when they needed to start over.
It’s a doubly frustrating moment.