In mid 2009, a professor would ask my entire graphic design class every week up to graduation if anyone had found a real job yet. Every week, all we could do was laugh. No one was hiring anyone in any field, much less us hopeful artists and budding writers. People were losing their jobs left and right and by the release of Up in the Air the only person in my immediate family with employment was my husband. Three months later, this blog was born out of a need to connect and be a productive citizen again. Part of what made Up in the Air worthy of Oscar nomination was it’s recognition of the downward economic conditions; the other part was its ideas on isolation.
For the film, director Jason Reitman interviewed many individuals who had recently lost their jobs, asking them to reiterate what they felt and said in the moment of bad news. We get this footage in three smartly edited scenes. Their comments range from outrage, worry, some depressing very thoughts and finally the ideas of new beginnings. To think about Ryan (George Clooney) bearing witness to all these reactions day after day, I can understand his need to keep isolated. It’s easiest to keep unemotional when you carry no attachments.
Ryan Bingham is a man who loves living most of his life alone on the road and flies across the country to fire people, when their bosses don’t have the balls. Business is booming. He also does some motivational speaking where he encourages people to live life free of commitments. To preach any idea, one has to practice them and believe in them. Ryan is just the man to encourage us to unload our backpacks.
Back at his company’s office in Omaha, newly graduated Natalie (Anna Kendrick) has innovated a new idea that will be more efficient and save money on travel, firing people over a web-cam. In an attempt to keep his life on the road, Ryan takes Natalie out criss-crossing the country to show her the ropes of his job and how such a personal blow should be done face-to-face. We’re not lost on the irony of this coming from the unattached man with an empty backpack speech.
Along the way, they meet Alex (Vera Farmiga), Ryan’s mutual hookup whenever their path’s cross. Young and idealistic Natalie cannot bring herself to comprehend this relationship with no future, especially after a cold breakup via text message. It seems Natalie spouting her ideas on at least not being alone gets to Ryan as he asks Alex to be his date for his sister’s wedding.
Some people may think that Ryan leads the perfect bachelor life, until they see him with his family. Though there is still love, Ryan has been so unattached he is an outsider to his own sisters. There are uncomfortably silent moments between the three siblings and it seems bringing Alex was a good idea for just having something new to talk about. The happiest moments of this film are Ryan with his family, they’re also the most bittersweet.
Visually, Up in the Air is very simple but subtly convey meaning. Notice the poster with Ryan and the two female silhouettes in front of the terminal window. Each individual is separated in the grid structure and none seem to be acknowledging one another. We find the same separation and grid structure in the opening credits showing all the aerial shots of the ground below. And throughout the film, you’ll notice times where Ryan is alone and framed within something. The camera feels most organic during the wedding scene, where the isolating structure is broken, the lighting is warmer and Ryan is surrounded by the people he shares mutual love with. It looks simple and sweet here, like a home movie.
This day and age we can all be very isolated without really realizing it. Between all the modes of social networking and everything our phones can do, it seems we can always be connected. While postcards, text messages and web-cams make communication quick and easy, they can be cold and sterile, lacking in humanity and are not appropriate for all occasions. Especially firing or a break-up. Running your life from a screen isn’t much more connection than living on the road. And for many of us today who haven’t found jobs or settled in one location, our lives are still up in the air with so much uncertainty and hope.
“Anybody who ever built an empire, or changed the world, sat where you are now. And it’s because they sat there that they were able to do it.”