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Re-watching childhood films enables deeper understanding of their messages

Pranaya Pahwa | Staff Writer

I am 18 years old. Legally, I am an adult. Nine years ago, I was nine years old. I was a lot shorter then. The world looked a lot larger.

On Feb. 16, I skip my afternoon class and drive with my mock trial team to Kansas City, Mo. for a tournament. On our way there, we stop for pizza. That night, I don’t sleep—I writhe in pain instead. I throw up six times. At 4 a.m., I go to a Walgreens for medication. I can’t retain the medication or water. At 6 a.m., I check into the hospital. My team goes to the tournament without me.

Six hours later, a doctor tells me they want to keep me overnight for observation. I am hooked to an IV. My resting heart rate won’t dip below 130. I am running a 103-degree fever. The doctor asks me a procedural question: “If your heart dies, do we have permission to revive you?” I respond yes. He tells me it’s unlikely that will happen. He is relieved at my response; he wouldn’t want to hear anything else from someone only 18 years old.

Fourteen hours after checking into the hospital, I am alone in my room in darkness. I am hooked to the IV. I named the IV Samuel S.J. McMillan. His friends, myself included and myself alone, inexplicably call him Nevin. The nice nurse, Amie, has already left. Doctors tell me I can eat now. I order pancakes. An hour later the cold pancakes arrive. I start to eat. My dominant left arm, connected to Nevin all day long, has no energy left. I try cutting and eating with my right arm. I drop syrup on myself. I give up. My phone is dead. I turn on the television and flip through the channels.

The film’s bright colors and defined shapes always catch my eye first. I first watched “Up” when it came out in 2009. I am a different person now. I let the movie run. As usual, it quickly breaks my heart.

Pixar’s narrative economy works its magic. Carl becomes grumpy and I understand why. I understood why when I was nine also. Now it is a little different. If I get to Carl’s age, my understanding will be different then too.

Carl flies away. Russell, a young wilderness explorer, joins him. Then Kevin, a cool bird, joins Carl. Doug, a talking dog, follows this group around and becomes a member himself. Nevin and I are still stuck. I melodramatically wonder if this is how I go: shattering plans, accomplishing nothing and disappointing everyone, myself most of all.

Together, Carl and his squad have adventures. I find it striking, but I don’t remember these all that well. The quietest moments are the most memorable and the most meaningful messages are those left unsaid. Carl flips through a book and gives Russell a pin. Together, Carl and Russell count cars.

Sitting in the hospital bed, I wish I was somewhere else. I don’t wish I was in a round with my team, or partying with them or playing Dance Dance Revolution with them. I wish I was just existing in the same space as them and we were all discussing something completely useless. That’s strange, right?

A floating house lands by a waterfall. My eyes tear up. The movie ends and I turn off the television. Darkness. Quiet. I understand Carl’s loneliness a little better. I felt a variation of it then. The film’s score echoed through me.

Screen Shot 2018-03-07 at 7.50.22 PMIllustration by Josh Zucker

Today, I face new challenges every day. I live a different life than I did last year. Very different from the life I lived nine years ago. It strikes me now that most good children’s films I watched when I was younger were actually about becoming adults: “Ratatouille” is about finding one’s identity when confronted with new worlds; “Lilo and Stitch” about making new families and loneliness; “Up,” at least ostensibly, about what adventure means and growing up.

These are all beautiful films and I suggest re-watching them. Their meanings change and grow with each viewing as you yourself evolve. When tired and broken, I watched “Up.” On Feb. 17, it was a different film then the one I had watched half a lifetime ago.

The characters in “Up,” “Ratatouille” and “Lilo and Stitch” don’t look real, but I posit they are. If anything, they are more than real and more than human. They are able to express as we so often struggle to do so. Stitch and Remy tell more in single gestures than I often convey in full conversations. Their visual differences only highlight how little we truly understand about one another. We can all turn to these films for a little guidance on how to be human and how to grow up.

This entire experience was all a little melodramatic. When I woke up the next morning, I felt better. My heart pumped 70 times every minute and my temperature was normal. I didn’t die. Everything was better. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t good. I was still in a hospital in a different state all alone and I was still stuck to Nevin. I reminded myself, though, that adventure is out there. That made me feel a lot better and, in that moment, content.