Monday, 5 March 2012

Feeling Comfortable in One's Own Life

This is what the movie RJ and I watched last night mostly made me think of.
The title of the DVD is "Up in the Air", the main characters are played by George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. Me not being much of a movie person in general, apart from Mr. Clooney, I didn't know any of the other actors - which is what I like; seeing someone over and over again, unless they really are firm favourites, sometimes can result in making a character less credible to me simply because the person playing him or her is, sadly, too "fixed" in my mind to a certain style of story or character. On the other hand, casting that does not follow the set lines can make a movie much more interesting.

But I digress.
"Up in the Air" follows a man whose job it is to lay off employees in companies where the boss is too much of a coward to speak to said employees in person. A sad job, it seems, but Ryan Bingham is very good at it and, more than anything else, he loves his way of life: always up in the air, travelling (first class, of course!) from one big city to the other, staying in hotels where he has everything he needs, having a clean-cut life free of committments and with very little luggage, both physically and emotionally. Or so it seems.

A young woman, new to the company he works for and fresh from university, full of ideas, presents a program that would totally cut all the travelling for Ryan and his colleagues, dealing with the to-be-fired employees via video call. Ryan is completely against the idea; the reasons he gives his boss are to do with the sensitive and personal nature of the conversations with the soon unemployed people, and part of him really feels that way. But more important to himself is that this would mean the end of the life he created for himself and in which he feels so utterly comfortable - the only times he is truly unhappy are those days he is NOT travelling but is in his sparsely furnitured apartment in Omaha (the apartment is cleverly shown in the movie in clinical colours and no personal items at all, while the hotel rooms we get to see are always full of warm colours, look very cosy and are tastefully decorated and furnished).

So he ridicules the new woman in front of their boss, and is promptly asked to take her along on his next trip, so that she can learn the ropes. Since he has no choice, Ryan grumpily accepts.

The two meet at the airport, and a rather unrealistic bit follows: the young woman, in all other respects the epitome of professional, cool efficiency, arrives with a suitcase she can hardly drag across the floor and way too much luggage. Of course, this gives Ryan the possibility to show her how little she knows of his world (he buys a proper trolley suitcase for her, gets rid of her pillow and so on), but it is not very credible that this capable young woman would set out on such an important trip so ill prepared - and it certainly would not be her first trip, anyway.
Never mind; the scene serves its purpose and does not generally take away from the movie's overall feel.

During one of his previous trips, Ryan has met Alex, a business woman who (in her own words) is "exactly like you, just with a vagina". The two of them have spent the night together and get along extremely well; one really feels these are two of a kind, and Alex seems to be exactly what Ryan is looking for in a woman: no strings, and the same love for unattached, comfortable and efficient travelling as he.

Now, with his young colleague Natalie in tow, he meets Alex again (I have left out some rather difficult conversations with employees Natalie either witnessed or had to lead herself). Just before Alex turns up, Natalie does not only show cracks in her wall of professional coolness, but completely crashes down because her boyfriend has broken up with her by text message.
A tearful Natalie sits down with Alex and Ryan, and the ensuing conversation is quite interesting for all three of them. Later, they gate-crash a party thrown at the hotel, and Natalie lets loose and shows her young, fun side, while Alex and Ryan get closer, too.

Ryan receives an invitation to his younger sister's wedding, and decides to ask Alex along. The weekend turns out to be a trip down memory lane for him, as well as a glimpse of what the future could be like - with Alex, who seems to fall under the spell of this enchanted time just as much as everyone else.

Shortly afterwards, Ryan decides he wants to be with Alex and pays her a surprise visit... and a surprise it is, just not in the way he intended.

Back in Omaha, his boss tells him that the company has postponed the program of video calls, and that he can fully resume his travelling. While he is on his next flight, the crew of the plane congratulate him: he is the 7th person who has logged up 10 million miles, and now member of this very exclusive club. This was (as he confessed to both Alex and Natalie some time ago) his ultimate goal in life, and now he has reached it; the scene has a slightly unreal feel to it (the lighting is very clever in this one), and for a moment, I would not have been surprised if it had just proved to be a dream of Ryan's.

Now that he actually has - once again - exactly the way of life he always felt most comfortable in, plus his big goal achieved, Ryan should be happy.
But for him, the movie ends on a rather melancholy note, while he does some very kind and generous things to make others happy.

It was a good film to watch; I am not entirely in agreement with the overall "message", but the acting is good, the storyline clever enough, and the music fits very well.


  1. Sounds like an interesting movie though I can't see what the point of the story is. There again I guess there are things you don't want to give away!

    My feeling is that if someone likes a lifestyle, they like it. Sure there are ups and downs in any chosen way of life but no reason Ryan should change his basic attitude. No reason he should look for a partner at all or care if he doesn't have one.

    That's not how most of us feel but some people do. I would like a movie that acknowledges this fact that people are not all the same. I would imagine it more a European movie theme though and not anything with George Clooney. Am I right? :)

    I agree I don't like too- familiar stars.

    1. Jenny, the point of the story to me is possibly not the one intended by the director... but you are right, I did not want to give away too much. Like you, I would have liked it if the movie had allowed for Ryan to live his life the way he was comfortable with and not change his attitude. I am sure it happens all the time, both ways: people who are comfortable in their own lives and never change, and others who, by some event or a person they meet, change. But it seemed a pity that, in the end, the old theme of "you can only ever be truly happy if you have that 1:1 relationship" came through; it seems slightly anachronistic to me, as if the world of movie-making was forever stuck in the 1950s, and even those female characters who at first come across "the same as men", in the end "give in" to their "true calling", wanting nothing more than a husband and kids.

  2. I haven't seen the movie, so can't comment on the plot, but I did hear something interesting about the movie on CBS-News' program "60 Minutes." Apparently, all the people in the scenes where Clooney is sitting down face-to-face and firing them are real people, not actors, and one who were let go by various employers during the recent layoffs. Which should add a note of realism to that part of the story.

    1. That is indeed a very interesting fact, thank you for pointing it out to me! Yes, the people who are being fired DO have a very distinct look and feel of REAL people about them. I mean, they are nowhere near as beautiful and/or perfectly groomed as the main actors, with very few exceptions.

  3. I saw the same thing about the "firing scenes" in the movie. It makes it so much more powerful to know that those poor people were really laid off. That for me the most emotional part of the movie.

    Hope you are doing well.

    1. Yes, having background information always makes a movie (or book) more alive to me. Than you, I am doing well :-)

  4. I don't have anything to add to that which has been said but I have added to movie to my 'to watch' list.

    1. How long is your list? :-)

    2. Not very long. I watched the film a few days ago. Odd ending!

    3. Not the typical Hollywood ending, that's for sure!