We’ve seen Carl look out the window at Ellie before, but this time is different.
This time it’s just a small moment in their routine of cleaning their home. There’s glass between them again, but no sense of distance.
We’re also reminded of the earlier days of their full steam ahead ethic. They’re both hard at work, keeping up the house. And look at how they’re not only both in the frame, but both cleaning the same window.
After all these years, they’re still enthusiastic and still doing everything together. It’s the banality of this moment that helps it stick in your mind later when you think about what Ellie’s loss means to Carl. The fact that a moment like this should stick out in the telling of their story suggests just how much every moment with Ellie meant something to Carl.
Continuing on with Ellie and Carl cleaning the house, we see Carl pause as something on the mantle catches his attention.
The beauty of this shot is that even though it’s setting up a reverse shot to show us what Carl is looking at, we already have an inkling.
We’ve seen this mantle so many times and know what’s on it. We’ve seen the shape of this picture frame before. Our familiarity with the house and the objects in it have primed us for the next shot.
We’re in Carl’s point of view as we cut to the reverse shot. Carl pulled the picture of Ellie as a girl off the mantle, then he looks up to the painting of their house on top of Paradise Falls.
The look tells us a story. He’s thinking about the past, and we get some clear, distinct visuals to explain it to us.
There’s the picture of Ellie as a child, aviator goggles and all, from back when they first met. There’s the picture behind it on the mantle from their wedding day (the picture we saw taken at the beginning of this montage). And there’s the mural they painted when they decided that they were committing to traveling to Paradise Falls, a trip we know never happened.
This series of images is letting us know not only that Carl is thinking about the promises of the past, but that our story is headed toward its conclusion. There’s an accumulation of emotionally charged imagery in this shot. The tension between the exotic dreams of the past and the comfortable banality of the present is too great.
Something needs to happen to try to resolve this tension.
We come back from the previous shot to the same framing as Shot 64. It’s a shot-reverse shot pattern. Carl looked at something, we saw what he looked at, now we’re seeing his reaction to what he looked at.
Everything plays out on Carl’s face. The frown as he looks up at the painting of Paradise Falls and considers how they never made the journey.
He looks at Ellie and remembers that he made a promise, several times over, to take them there.
And in that moment he makes a decision to fulfill that commitment. The change of expression displays his change in mindset. He shows us that he’s thinking, and this leads us to the next shot.
Also look at the wonderful framing of this shot. Ellie is on Carl’s mind, and she’s a constant presence within the frame. She’s as constant in our field of vision as she is in his thoughts.
Carl’s finally buying them tickets to South America! They’re going to finally live their dream! This movie is definitely about a goofy elderly couple on a wild, romantic vacation, right?
This shot is a positive moment for Carl, returning him to the desire to visit Paradise Falls and go on their big adventure, but look at the shot itself.
The camera is static, and we’ve previously seen the importance of motion to truly positive moments for Ellie and Carl.
The framing is reminiscent of the shot where Ellie and Carl listen to the Doctor, with objects masking the sides of the frame and focusing our attention on a doorway.
Look at the way the posters in the background are put in a similar place, one showing Peru, the other a pregnant woman.
Even look at the way that the word “Travel” on the signs is broken into two parts by the framing.
The mood is upbeat, but the shot construction is telling us not to get our hopes up. This is another impossible dream.
We cut from Carl getting the tickets to a close up on Ellie’s ticket. Look at the markings on it. They’re flying to Venezuela. The ticket is marked “Econo,” so this isn’t going to be a fancy trip. But we know these two. That part doesn’t matter.
Carl tucks it into the picnic basket as a surprise. As he does so, we see his wedding ring again.
Look at what’s in the basket. Most of it doesn’t seem to carry a lot of weight, but there’s a bottle of soda in there, just like the kind that Ellie’s grape soda pin came from all those years ago.
And because Carl is carrying a picnic basket with the blanket, we know they’re headed to the hill they go to to watch the clouds. The established patterns of their life allow this very close, specifically focused shot to explain so much so quickly.
Let’s talk about contrast.
The previous shot was in spring. The current shot is in autumn.
The previous shot was sometime during the day. The current shot is at twilight.
The previous shot had small, puffy clouds, just begging to be imagined into pictures. The current shot has long, continuous clouds looming overhead.
The previous shot had Ellie in the lead. The current shot puts Carl in that position.
The previous shot had Carl failing to catch up played for laughs. The current shot has Ellie stumbling and falling, signaling that something is very wrong.
We can see that this is serious. It’s in the way that Carl runs back down the hill, against the motion of the camera, to help her. It’s like he’s fighting against something inevitable.
Not only is the camera moving from left to right, pulling away from them, but Carl is running from right to left. As we established before, this goes against the direction that a western audience associates with the natural flow of information. He’s fighting against larger forces even in the way his movement is framed.
And look at how far down Ellie falls out of our line of sight. The way she’s framed by the hill, it looks like she’s falling into the ground. If we weren’t thinking about death and mortality already, this moment puts it front and center for us.
Don’t forget to notice what’s in the distance. There’s the silhouette of the town. That’s changed, too. Now we see skyscrapers dwarfing the buildings that were there decades ago. It’s a small moment, but it’s setting us up for the conflict we’ll be in as the story moves forward.