Thursday 28 July 2011

Devouring Films: Up in the Air

My abiding memory about Up in the Air, before I saw it, was that my friend Frances categorically refused to go and see it at the cinema with me, saying that it looked 'really really really boring' and that it would be a waste of precious hours of life. When I finally saw it, courtesy of LoveFilm, I took great pleasure in triumphantly texting her and letting her know that it was far from being boring. In fact, it's pretty great. I'm not sure that she cared that much about this earth-shattering piece of information, but I can definitely pass on the good news to all of you- Up in the Air is not at all boring!!

So, the premise of the film is, possibly, a tiny bit boring. George Clooney (*sigh*) plays Ryan Bingham, a man whose job is firing people for other people; but more crucially than what he does is the way he does it- he gets to travel around the entirety of America, barely out of airports or hotels and being at home for only around 40 (miserable) days per year. 'So, what?' I hear you cry. 'The film is just a load of airports and hotels and offices and stuff and Clooney just goes around looking all smug and satisfied with his life?' Well, a little bit, yes. But also, a lot more than that as well. You see, I think of Ryan as a pretty tragic character. He thinks he's happy with his life, where he only has to look after and think of himself, and where his main life goal is to get 10 million air miles (oh yes), and to this end he even holds a load of seminars where he tells people that responsibilities, not only of owning material things but also of having relationships with other people, only drag you down and stop you achieving your full potential. But he's definitely not happy.

The thing that I think most relates to how I think about Ryan actually comes from an advert (shameful, I know) that we have in the UK. I can't even remember what it's for (possibly online dating?) but in it it says how everyone's connected, but not really connecting. Not only do I think this is a pretty fair assessment of modern life (we're connected to everyone we've ever met, practically, by facebook, but how long do we spend really talking to, and forging deep connections with the people we know?) but it's practically the best description of Ryan that could exist. He's connected to the entire world, can go (and has gone) anywhere by plane, but he lacks a connection to a single human being. We can assume that he gets laid, talks to other people, and so on, but when it comes down to it he is alone. He avoids talking to his family, hasn't met his sister's fiance, and just generally shuns any kind of close human relationship. The saddest part of this whole scenario is that he doesn't seem to care about this at all-as long as he can keep running up airmiles, without having to face how empty his life really is, he's fine.

This changes with the arrival of two very different women in his life, each of whom plays a part in making him reassess the isolated way he lives his life. Alex (Vera Farmiga) is a confident, self-assured businesswoman who lives in a similar way to Ryan, and who tells him "Just think of me as you, just with a vagina." As a seduction technique, this is apparently extremely effective (himself being the one person who he values above any other) and they are soon embroiled in a sex-relationship thing whenever their cross-country schedules allow. In this relationship, Ryan finds something that he was never looking for, and, it has to be said, we're rooting for them to get together (properly) by the end of the film. The other woman in Ryan's life is Natalie (Anna Kendrick), an idealistic 22 year old who wants all the things that Ryan doesn't, and who tries to convince him that the way he lives is unfulfilling, lonely, and just plain sad. I like to think that Ryan learns things from her, but also that she learns from him- how to live your life according to what you want rather than entirely what someone else wants. How to be, in other words, a little more selfish.

To tell you anymore, I think, would be to rob you of the wonderful experience that watching this film provides. Does Ryan reach his airmiles target? Does he learn how to connect- really connect- with other people? With, as we all hope, Alex? Are there roles for women that almost all actresses would die for? (Actually, I can tell you this one already. Yes. Yes there are. Also, it being a Jason Reitman film, I can also tell you that Jason Bateman is in it.) For the answers to the rest of these questions and so much more, you're going to have to watch the film. And then, once you have, please come back and discuss it with me- there's so much more to say!

1 comment:

  1. I saw this back when it came out. I remember it being slow (not really an edge-of-your-seat type movie) I remember it being very good. Clooney's character is so tragic, whether he notices the tragedy or not.