Riding in Airplanes #2: On With the Story (And Full of Hot Air)

Dear CF,

I had intended to do at least two Riding in Airplanes posts in this little series. The second installment was going to be about the intimate conversations we have on planes with total strangers. Some coincidences have, well, incided that plan. So I’ve lazily decided to organize this post according to coincidence, which the OED defines as “the notable concurrence of events or circumstances having no apparent causal connexion” or, alternately, “Falling together.”

Coincidence the First: I saw the movie Up, which has lots to say about fears and flying both, though not in connection with each other. It also deals pretty eloquently with the problem of what makes us happy. Moreover, it does in miniature (and in 3D) what the “What Makes Us Happy” article does in The Atlantic: show you (albeit in dumbshow, and in sunnily idealized form) the trajectory of a life in its entirety with its attendant emotions, and asks what one has to ask after watching a story end: Now What?

If Star Trek’s plot is driven by dead women, so is Up‘s. But the latter has that rare and ineffable thing: respect for story and for audience. It’s not perfect: the movie retreats a bit from the near-Chekhovian territory of its real-life premise.  In deference to young viewers it refrains from pushing through the really grim questions—for example, where Frederickson will live and die, a problem which hovers like, well, a big blimp in the background and seasons the whole escapist adventure with poignancy—but it rather beautifully lets Frederickson let go of all those dreams deferred. (This isn’t About Schmidt.) Still, it gives two really deserving protagonists a way to channel, fulfill and (maybe most importantly) attenuate their visions so they don’t explode. The Spirit of Adventure gets deflated, but there’s remarkable beauty and power in balloons. If only Nero had had a chubby young scout stowaway aboard his ship!

(It’s also—and this is fodder for another day—an interesting counterpoint to the way in which excellence, mediocrity, godgiven talent and work are treated in The Incredibles.)

One last thing: an important maternal character in the bird is misnamed Kevin by the kid. I like this little acknowledgment of Pixar’s tendency (and maybe young boys’ tendency) to see an initially unsexed character as male not through malice but because that’s the unmarked choice.

Coincidence the Second: I read a short story by John Barth called “On With the Story.” It will not be clear why this is a coincidence until I tell you my plan.

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