It wasn’t Lotso’s betrayal of Woody and the gang (that was pretty much expected); nor was it that they were saved (in a move of pure, elated genius) by “the claw” itself, commandeered as it was by the Potato Head’s adopted alien children; it wasn’t even the moment when they finally realized that there was nothing more to be done, nothing more that they could do -that this was the end of [T]he (Toy) [S]tory. It was the moment when I realized – fully realized: when what I was feeling became overwhelmingly congruent with what I was just then realizing I had known all along – that the toys had spent their entire lives, in one way or another, postponing this very moment. The whole narrative of their lives – the form that their particular lives took, as toys – was shot through with the reality that they would very probably been forgotten or broken, and more than likely be thrown away. At best, they had the limbo of the attic to look forward to, but even that future simply mediated the self-same inevitable demise.
It might be the guilt inherent in a reality in which my toys not only come to life when I’m not looking, but who also love – and want to be loved by – me, that has always, if only mildly, plagued my viewing of the Toy Story movies. On one hand, there are the metaphysical implications of the toys themselves, who find purpose and meaning in their kid and their calling to always be there for him (when Buzz and the rest of the toys decide to stay at Sunnyside, Woody tells them they’re being “selfish,” an accusation which visibly bothers them all). On the other hand, and from the child’s perspective, there is the imperative to never forget, never break, never throw away your toys – your toys who know and love you so well. This is the commodity fetish par excellence, the thing that literally takes on a life of its own and what’s more, deploys not a little bit of Foucault’s “pastoral” power – the power that gets inside of your ‘soul’ and whereby, in this case, the commodity fetish wants to control you (see: guilt).
What is most interesting, however, and this from the toys’ point of view, is that there is a dual, or split, desire that powers the narrative. On one hand, there is the imperative to always “be there” for Andy, their kid; on the other: the growing feeling that this might also be true of and for each other, that they need to stay together, to “be there” for each other. In the same way the toys’ metaphysics is confused: they are called to love their kid, but they also desire the love from said kid in return – the same kid who is going to inevitably stop loving them, lose them, break them, or simply throw them away. And while it would be unreasonable to expect the biggest jewel in the Pixar crown to take this logic to its inexorable end, it should be noted that in the end, Woody chooses the latter: his friends over his kid.
It wasn’t just the above realization – that these toys had been living in a certain form of active nihility denial* – however, that really gets me in the above scene; it’s this plus the way that the toys react to what has just then made itself known as inevitable. In every other instance- and there had been quite a few, some of them quite chilling and even horrible (as in the case at the beginning of the movie when Woody watches the trash truck, in which he thinks his friends are, compress slowly), over the course of three movies (and fifteen years – the course of a childhood), the toys had looked for, and found, a way out. The child watching the film always knew that they would, and in a way – or because of this – it seemed as though the toys themselves knew it, too. This is what gives Jessi’s question its gravitas: “Buzz!” she cries, “What do we do?!” She’s scared, and this is the sort of thing one might say in this sort of mortal situation, but it’s also asked from the standpoint of one who still expects a favourable answer, and this not even in a naive sense. Always Buzz or Woody or the whole gang working together would have an answer to this question, but finally they do not. So we get to realize, together, in the intensely compressed temporality of one’s last moments, that this is it.
There is no use in either rejecting or confirming anything, and neutrality is a misnomer as one unwittingly finds oneself in the position of the passive verb. But what is there to be said about what they are able to do? They are lucky that they’re together, that they are friends; and it is admirable, for lack of a better word, that they are able to look and see their world for what it is. But in the end the logic of their actions, the syntax of their relationship with the world, is not something other than the logic that any normal kid (without toys who come to life) is familiar with in her everyday life: in the end they hold each others’ hands, look forward for as long as possible and, finally, close their eyes.
* I totally made this term up.