Up in the Air
The basic premise of “Up in the Air” is that a person needs a family, at least some kind of permanence, in order to be truly happy. This is, of course, a giant, heaping pile of shit. It’s the kind of pile of shit we get in America because single people don’t spend as much money on greeting cards and gifts and strollers, so we need to make them feel like complete losers for it.
George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a professional human resources guy who flies around the country firing people. He spends something like 320 days out of the year on the road, has no personal life to speak of, and dreams of the day he hits 10 million frequent flyer miles.
First of all, the filmmakers undercut the idea of the happy, single person by handcuffing Ryan with a job so crappy that even a vindictive misanthrope would have trouble sleeping at night and not questioning the meaning of his existence. I mean, what the hell else is Ryan going to do except have some kind of personal values crisis?
The giant, fucked up metaphor in the film is an empty backpack, which is such a giant, glowing piece of elementary school symbolism that I wanted to express my outrage by dressing up like Barney, setting myself on fire, and running through the theater. Ryan gives little presentations throughout the country using the backpack as a symbol for how we all have too many possessions. Obviously, somebody with that narrow a view of existence is going to eventually look at that backpack and wonder where the fuck his intellect went.
Intellectual conflict is created by the arrival of Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) at Ryan’s company. Natalie has the idea that people could more easily be fired via the Internet than in person, thereby saving the company millions of dollars. It’s an idea with legs. Except that Ryan hates it. Natalie is the sort of recent business school graduate who’s so long on theoretical knowledge and so short on real-world experience that it’s a miracle she can get to work without urinating all over pant suit out of fear. Ryan believes that the personal touch is essential to his line of work and they set off on the road so Ryan can prove it.
Ryan’s emotional conflict comes in the form of Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), his female comrade-in-arms and fuck buddy. Alex shares all of Ryan’s views about the freedom of the single life and all that jazz and frankly, I saw the resolution of this relationship coming from so far away that I had to book a flight just to get there.
That we even live in a world where firing people via the internet versus firing them in person is actually some kind of acceptable conversation shows the kind of barren emotional and intellectual landscape where this film resides.
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