The Cost of Love

Kathryn Duncan
4 min readSep 9, 2022


Star, photo by Kathryn Duncan

The cost of love is grief.

It’s an obvious statement.

Literature is filled with examples from Greek tragedies to Shakespeare to multiple contemporary works.

Let’s go with the most obvious and powerful: the first 11 and a half minutes of the Disney Pixar film Up.

The movie opens in 1939 with Carl as a little boy watching a newsreel in his local theater. The story is about the explorer Charles Muntz who is returning to the United States on his blimp from Paradise Falls, South America. Carl is entranced, pulling his explorer goggles down over his own glasses, excitement written all over his face.

As Carl returns home, he jumps over a crack in the sidewalk narrating in his head how he is traversing the Grand Canyon. He then loses his balloon when it floats into an abandoned house.

In retrieving the balloon, he meets Ellie, a wild-haired girl who shares his explorer passion and wears the same goggles.

One broken arm later, he and Ellie begin a lifelong friendship as they pour over her My Adventures book, which is almost entirely empty since her adventures will begin once she transports her treehouse to Paradise Falls.

All dialogue stops as music plays behind scenes showing Carl and Ellie’s long life together. The montage moves from the wedding to renovation of the house where they first met with Ellie still wearing her wedding gown and sawing a board and both putting handprints on their mailbox, which reads Carl & Ellie.

We can see the true intimacy and love between them as they picnic, find jobs together at the zoo with Carl’s balloon cart and Ellie’s work at the South American pavilion a bird perched on her arm, and hold hands throughout. Looking at clouds, they see various shapes that shift from turtles to babies — lots of them — and we next see a pregnant Ellie painting the nursery and then at the hospital head in hands clearly having had a miscarriage with Carl holding her shoulders.

The sadness lifts as the two plan a life of adventure, a new painting of Ellie’s treehouse at Paradise Falls above the mantel, which holds binoculars, a colorful and exotic wooden bird, and a model blimp. Carl and Ellie put a Paradise Falls label on a large jug, which we see them fill with coins only to empty it for life’s exigencies: a flat tire, a broken leg, and a tree falling on the roof of the house.

Eventually, after a passage of time marked by Ellie straightening Carl’s ties that leads to both of them gray-haired and old, Carl picks up Ellie’s picture as that gap-toothed kid from the mantel, and we see him buying tickets at a travel agency posters of Brazil and Peru in the background.

He tucks the tickets into a picnic basket and walks ahead of Ellie up the hill to their favorite picnic place with Ellie slowly trudging behind. We cut to Ellie in a hospital bed before seeing Carl alone surrounded by flowers and balloons at the funeral home.

The action of the movie begins as Carl struggles to hold on to Ellie via their house, now the center of a construction site. After seeing his loneliness indoors, we view him leave via the front door with its four deadbolt locks and a door chain, symbolizing how he’s shut himself off from the world.

Carl was unable to form a family with Ellie, and they never set out on that promised adventure together.

Carl’s love for Ellie is enviable and his misery after her death understandable. His solution to cling to the past and regret is the wrong one.

I got to thinking about Up and grief this week because my cat died. Star had been diagnosed with an extremely rare and aggressive cancer at the beginning of the year. After research showing that treatment would be costly but not make him suffer, I tried chemotherapy, which seemed to work but didn’t, and then medication, which did nothing to help.

On Friday, he clearly wasn’t himself. On Saturday, at the emergency vet, I had to decide if I would delay the inevitable or act. I chose to prevent more suffering.

I held him and sang to him as he died peacefully.

Star used to greet me at the door. He meowed every time I passed, rolling onto his back and wanting his belly rubbed. He made me laugh.

And now he makes me cry.

It’s a price worth paying.

In the meantime, Star’s brother needs a lot of love as they spent their whole lives together. I’m so lucky to be able to give him that, and he’s a living reminder that love shouldn’t be shut up behind a locked door. I won’t hide behind a door with five locks to avoid feeling grief again as Carl does.

Love is worth the cost.



Kathryn Duncan

Kathryn Duncan is an English professor and author of the book Jane Austen and the Buddha: Teachers of Enlightenment.