What’s It All About?

There are those who like to travel for business and those who can’t stand the hassle. Then there is Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) in Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air.” Bingham travels 300 days a year as he roams the country firing people on behalf of bosses who can’t muster the courage to do it themselves. Bingham loves it so much, in fact, that he makes the security checkpoint nightmare into a ballet, of sorts, as he slips off his loafers while simultaneously extracting his laptop from his roller-board suitcase. He seems to enjoy it. Perhaps, when compared to his job, the sport of traveling is fun in the world of Ryan Bingham, professional hatchet man. He belongs to all of the rewards plans, mileage plans, and frequent guest plans of American Airlines, Hertz and Hilton. At American they “know” him by name. Bingham prefers 35,000 feet above the earth rather than terra firma. He prefers the microcosm of the multi-terminal airport to the real world.

Bingham’s world comes perilously close to crashing to a earth when his boss wants to cut back on travel to save a few bucks during the financial crisis that faces the nation. The film shows the real victims of last year’s financial crisis–the many men and women who lost their once-solid jobs as companies threw off employees by the thousands. Bingham faces the possibility of staying put in Omaha where he would fire people via video-teleconference. Here is where the film is truly brilliant in its exploration of “what it’s all about.” Bingham objects to the teleconference firing on the grounds that its not humane and doesn’t provide the same amount of comfort to the recently dismissed. On one level the audience, along with Binghan’s boss (played very well by Jason Bateman), can roll its collective eyes. But Bingham actually does have a heart hidden behind the traveller’s facade, and his heart makes this film one of the best I’ve seen in a long, long time.

Unlike some recent good films such as “Where the Wild Things Are” and “The Road,” this film makes no mistakes, has no flaws, and no loose ends. There is nothing we have to forgive Reitman of in order to enjoy the rest of the film. This film sets itself a pretty high bar in that it wants to take on the question of what life is all about. According to Reitman, life is about relationship–a certain kind of relationship. I don’t want to give too much away, so that’s all I will say at this point. Perhaps in a few weeks, once everyone has had a chance to see it, then we can discuss it in these virtual pages.

3 Responses to What’s It All About?

  1. I loved this movie. There is a particular moment when George Clooney decides to surprise his airport lover, who he knows only from airport connections, by flying to her house. He thinks that something deeper has taken off between them. She is suprised to see him at the door – she has a family and husband, which he never knew. He walks away and overhears her tell her husband that it was nobody, just “someone lost.” That is exactly what he is, a man with no roots or life. His life is, as she says, a “parentheses.” While other people may indulge themselves with parenthetical phases in their lives, his whole life is nothing other, completely suspended “in the air.”

    I couldn’t help thinking of the movie “The Wrestler.” The exact same point is made about Rourke’s character. While Tomei is a stripper by trade, but hoping to move to Indiana to really begin living, Rourke’s identity is wrapped up in wrestling. Both of them are involved in crude forms of showmanship, but for one only is it a parentheses. For Rourke, this “parentheses” is his whole life. For this reason, he cannot engage in any form of deep relationship. His whole life is surface, just as Clooney’s is.

    Jesuits too travel a tremendous amount and do not have families. “In the Air” reminded me that without the vows, we can become as shallow as Clooney’s character. It is the vows that bind us to the earth. They nail us to the cross, and the cross is both rooted in the earth and embracing of the whole world: the horizontal and vertical beams. But without these beams firmly in place through the vows, superficiality quickly sets in, and sadly, I have seen it many times. With no family or kids to worry over, many of us have chosen the life of ease and no responsibility. Please pray for us, that we remain rooted in our vowed life.

  2. Well, Nathan, since you nicely launch into life’s
    reflections, on ourselves, how about taking a gander
    at then, a real life-movie “Don’t Come Knocking.”

    That, I personally class as a real Existential life
    film like no other I’ve ever seen: loaded with
    existential philosophy themes, as well as
    undercurrents of theology! But then, the film is
    made by a European, who yes, would have more of
    this approach than has Hollywood ever matured, yet,
    too (!)

    This movie I’d love to discuss: only future film
    discussion clubs will discover. Currently, nobody
    knows it exists. As is the case of the lonely
    individual in life: except by God!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Upon reading this entry on the film “Up in the Air” I realized that in society relationships are overshadowed by the ideals of consumerism. As shown in the movie Bingham is never able to develop any relationships because at all times he is focused on his work and never devotes the time to care about any human beings. Bingham becomes so caught up in the consumer society that he never truly realizes that his life is leading nowhere and in the process he is ruining the lives of other people by firing them. Bingham’s life is defined by avoiding relationships throughout his whole life and clinging to the objects that make him feel secure without the possibility of disappointing him. The secure object in his life is the action of being in the airplane away from reality and far from his problems, and virtually is escaping the fragile relationships he created while at his work.
    “Up in the Air” relates to human nature and our will to escape human relationships and cling on to superficial objects that make us feel secure, this is what occurs in this movie. Bingham is addicted to consumerism and is unable to develop relationships because he is so focused upon escaping reality in his airplane. However, when Bingham is forced to stop travelling, he no longer feels the temptation to cling on to the superficial objects of society, but rather is able to start developing positive relationships with other people. As a result he is no longer able to escape these relationships, but is forced to deal with his consequences and fight through the difficulties of life without the temptation of consumerism.

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