Though some of us might be thousands of miles away from home, vacations and phone calls are constant reminders that home still exists, with families that support us unconditionally.
“Up in the Air,” directed by Jason Reitman, tells the story of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), who intentionally avoids these kinds of roots. Bingham’s ultimate loneliness in the film thoughtfully portrays the essentiality of family to one’s existence.
Bingham’s makeshift home is an airplane as he travels across America firing people. While destabilizing the lives of those he fires, he promotes a commitment-free life through motivational speaking. As a result, Bingham is a man with skewed virtues and a distorted definition of the ideal human condition.
Despite his flaws, Clooney’s ability to portray a man tone deaf to anyone but himself still left me charmed and sympathetic to his situation. His steadfast belief in the need for independence from all other people, even his own family, evoked an air of sadness.
Bingham’s casual love interest, Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), is in some ways the subdued female version of Bingham, though she’s much more complicated than her lifestyle conveys. Farmiga and Clooney have such strong chemistry that you can’t help but yearn for their own happy ending — a reaction essential to an overall understanding of the film.
Contrasting these self-indulgent characters, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a recent Cornell graduate, steps into the scene as Bingham’s opposition, threatening to ground him by bringing all operations of Bingham’s company back to Nebraska (its base) by firing people through a video device. Her existence in the film as a young, naïve and committed soul (yes, she’s working in Nebraska because of a boyfriend) contrasts perfectly with Bingham’s own selfishness.
Without Keener, Bingham might have continued his casual relationship with Alex and his uncommitted lifestyle, but Keener’s youthful ideals humanize Bingham. She challenges him to commit and free himself from this solitary existence. The ensuing heartbreak teaches Bingham that complete independence ultimately warrants no self-fulfillment.
I saw this movie on Christmas Day with my mom. It was her birthday. I wanted to see “Nine.” She wanted to see George Clooney. Before walking into a Madison, N.J., theatre where the average viewer was at least 65 years old, I seriously questioned how exciting a movie about a guy who is constantly on a plane could be.
Yet the simplicity of the film heightened the plot. It made me think. This wasn’t “Avatar” with 3-D special effects, but it was an essential lesson on the importance of human connection and family.