Note: This post is additional commentary to the weekly post I have up today at GoGameFace. I try my best not to spoil the film too much but you might want to watch the film first before going any further- and I hope you do because it is a great film.
Shopgirl, The Weather Man, Adaptation. These three movies are among my all-time favorites, but I never really thought about why I liked them so much. With the exception of Adaptation, the three films aren’t widely acclaimed nor would they end up on most people’s personal top films list.
I knew after watching Up In The Air that I wanted to add it to this list- and after watching the film not only did I know why I loved the film, but it helped me realized why I loved all my other favorites as well.
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney ) appears to be a man with no loyalties, no commitments. His job is to fire employees for his clients: the ultimate display of disloyalty between an employer and employee. His charming, cool, and collected personality helps smoothes over and pacify the unfortunate victims he fires and perhaps leaves them with a bit of hope. However don’t be fooled- he does it only to avoid someone, “going postal.” When he tells Zach Galifianakis that he will be there for him after he is fired, we don’t actually believe that is the case. He has no loyalties to the people he fires, an unfortunate truth we learn at the end of the film.
This job keeps him in the air for well over 300 days a year. His sparse apartment back in Omaha acts only as a crash pad, much like the hotel rooms and suites he inhabits day in and day out. He is not only nomadic in his living arrangements but in his relationships as well. He is somewhat distant to from his family, avoiding participating in his sister’s wedding until absolutely required to do so, and preaches in his speaking engagements about shedding relationships, the extra weight, from your lives:
“Make no mistake your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. All those negotiations and arguments and secrets, the compromises. The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living. Some animals were meant to carry each other to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans. We are sharks.”
His entire speech was featured in early teaser trailers of the film:
It is easy to write Bingham off as a commitment-phoebe but he is actually committed to one thing: brands. Lifeless corporations that can’t hurt him but can potentially provide him with big privileges and perks. He is proud to be a loyal frequent flier with American Airlines, determined to reach his goal of 10 million miles and unheard of perks. He only stays at Hilton hotels and rents cars from Hertz. He flirts with fellow business traveler Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga ) through the various loyalty programs each are members of. Alex appears to be as big of a commitment-phobe as Ryan, perhaps even more so. She even goes so far to compare herself to him as the same person- but with a vagina. Their romance gives the film a romantic plot line that is anything but typical. In the end however it is still about loyalty, Ryan and Alex’s idea that the only thing you should be loyal to is yourself, and should be as free to move like a leaf in the wind.
However, is this who Ryan really is? We start to see hints of a transformation as Ryan’s way of life is threatened by Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), your typical Gen-Y employee: young, ambitious, and determined to make an impact. She devises a way to bring the Internet into the firing process- creating a way to fire employees via video chat. The move would save the company money on travel, but ground Ryan and put an end to his constant “up in the air” lifestyle. While it maybe unbelievable to think that one day we will be fired via video chat, employees have already been let go via e-mail and Facebook. Bingham is obviously opposed to be move and argues to his boss (Jason Bateman ) that what they do requires a human touch, a face-to-face interaction. It is fitting that the whole termination-via-Internet encapsulates the struggles we face today in our social media world- replacing genuine human interaction with shallow electronic connections.
The two women in his life: his co-worker Natalie and his lover Alex help chip away at the tough exterior that appeared impervious to human connection. He decides to bring Alex to his sister’s wedding, a moment where he grows closer to his family and develops stronger feelings towards Alex. We begin to see something we never saw in Ryan before: loneliness.
However this film doesn’t have your typical happy ending. Alex is revealed to be even more cold and heartless than Ryan, defining their relationship as nothing more than an escape:
“I thought we signed up for the same thing… I thought our relationship was perfectly clear. You are an escape. You’re a break from our normal lives. You’re a parenthesis.”
The film ends with us wondering if Ryan has even changed at all as he returns to his life up in the air.
So with the new ideas of loyalty, themes of separation, and a backdrop we can relate too all too much, Up In The Air is a film that’s not only definitive of this time, but of this generation as well.
But how does this film relate to me beyond it’s ties to Gen-Y? I again look to the films I want to put this up with and realize what each of these films meant to me. As I sat down to write this post I wondered what it was that I liked about these dark dramas, and I read through each of their plots once again. That’s when it hit me: each of these films not just reveals something about protagonist, but about me as well.
In Shopgirl, Steve Martin struggles to express his true feelings, losing a girl because of it. In The Weather Man, Nicholas Cage is successful yet insecure, and eventually accepts the flawed world around him. The same is also true in Adaptation, where Cage plays a screenwriter who’s writer’s block leads him to overcome his insecurities and express his love to the girl he admires. All of these characters are people I can strongly relate to.
I’ve struggled to expression true feelings and connect on a deeper level like Steve Martin in Shopgirl; I still find myself somewhat insecure and unsure of myself like Nicholas Cage in The Weather Man and Adaptation- and like Ryan and Alex in Up In The Air, I found myself constantly looking for an escape from the harsh realities of my mundane life.
After I finished watching Up In The Air I walked around the room, finding myself dumping all these thoughts and realizations to the girl I was with, all except one- the escape part. I feel the loneliness Ryan and Alex felt and like Alex I tried to find an escape, a parenthesis- and I tried to find it with the girl I was watching the film with.
That’s when I realized that as lonely as I feel in this city, I wasn’t doing myself any good trying to find temporary solace with someone I didn’t want to be with- despite how much she wanted to be me.
So that’s why I really loved Up In The Air, as much as it could be a defining film of the decade, it also represented to me where I am as well.