Sunday, January 24, 2010

commitment shy (rated 5 stars)

by Jason Reitman

Up in the Air is the story of a guy whose job is to fire people. He’s a “road warrior”, someone who spends his time mostly traveling for his job. His sole commitment is to this job and the freedom that it gives him by keeping him moving and thus hard to pin down. He even mostly manages to evade his direct family, two sisters who still live in the town where they all grew up.

I haven’t read the book. The main character in the book sounds shallow and unsympathetic in comparison to our protagonist in the movie, Ryan Bingham, who seems to be kind of sweet (is it impossible for Clooney to play an unsympathetic character?). Even in his job as an ax-man, it eventually comes out that he’s sensitive to what he’s doing to his victims, trying to show them that there’s a future way out of their sudden darkness.

Bingham is depicted as a vulnerable man, always running away from the burden of commitment. And the movie is filled with commitments which go bad, so Bingham’s philosophy of “keeping one’s (metaphorical) backpack light” seems wise, in the context of the movie. This philosophy is in line with Thoreau’s minimalistic lifestyle, but is counter to American mores. In contrast, the “American dream” of marriage, kids, house is viewed with cynicism in the movie. This is kind of surprising, given that it’s a Hollywood production.

In the end, you aren’t given a neat Hollywood ending, another thing which I liked about the movie. Nice!

[I saw Up in the Air in a movie theater.]

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