Who Wants to Live Forever?

November 11, 2010

In the original Toy Story, as previously discussed on this blog, the question that confronts the characters is the meaning of life in a universe in which this universe is all there is. Picking up where the first one left off, Toy Story 2 deals with the problem of mortality.

As in the first film, a new character is introduced in order to present the problem. In Toy Story, it was Buzz Lightyear, who believed in the existence of a higher power, Star Command, whose orders it was his life’s duty to obey. In Toy Story 2, we meet Jessie, who brings wisdom, not Buzz’s naiveté. Unlike Andy’s toys, Jessie knows about death. She has already been a child’s toy, and so she knows what happens to children: they grow up and leave their toys behind. As good as the toys’ lives are with Andy, it won’t last forever; when Andy grows up, that will be the end of their lives.

Having been separated from the rest of Andy’s toys at the beginning of the film, Woody was determined to get back home. But after talking to Jessie and learning her story, he’s not so sure that is what he wants anymore. Having opened Woody’s eyes to his mortality, Jessie offers him some good news: he doesn’t have to die. He can live forever by going with the rest of the “Roundup Gang” to a museum, as part of a collector’s set.

In the museum, Woody won’t be loved by children; he will be adored by them. And by children who, in effect, never grow up. He will never have to fear being forgotten, as Jessie was forgotten by her child. Seems like an easy choice, but after some thought, it occurs to Woody what being “adored” really means. It means never being loved by anyone. When he meets the Roundup Gang, Woody is excited to discover how famous he is, but ultimately, he finds it a hollow pleasure in comparison to the experience of being loved by Andy. In the end, Woody goes back to Andy, determined to make the most of the limited time he has left.

There’s no question that one of the most painful things about life is its fleetingness. Nothing lasts. And even scarier to contemplate, our ultimate death means that “the nothing” lasts. Still, striving for permanence implies stepping away from the things that make life worth living in the first place.

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