Up in the Air

The opening sequences of Up in the Air with its airplane window views of the American landscape set to “This Land is Your Land” thrilled me. And then there was George Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham. He had lifehacked his routine to perfection. No wasted space. No wasted effort. He performed a perfect ballet of efficiency. How I admired him even as I knew that I could never slip the bounds of earth so emotionally rooted am I in my possessions. Yet I admire him as neither his fellow characters or the movie did. For Up in the Air is a cautionary tale about ridding yourself of baggage, whether material goods or relationships. Those, like Ryan Bingham and mirror-image “with a vagina” Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) , who succeed are thought to be cold fish, indeed, living out an unenviable life.

Strange how I can reside in the other camp, a meticulous caretaker of my possessions and the memories imbued within them and yet feel no disdain for people who live in that airy realm. I started to write “who choose a different path” but I think it’s more a difference in personality than choice. Ryan Bingham hasn’t chosen a different path so much as he belongs to a different tribe. On the Myers-Briggs he is a TJ. His head rules his heart and he likes plans, routines, habit, closure. He does what is comfortable for him and perfects it until it is a work of art. For that, as my fellow INTJ said after the movie, he is portrayed as a “lonely loser.”

Really! The teary emotional appeal for marriage and children from his 23-year-old protégé Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) made me want to slap her. Honey, do you really believe that married life means your husband will lovingly cradle you to sleep every night? And why is the only path to human fulfillment to procreate? (I’m thinking of you too, Children of Men.)

I want a sequel to this movie. I want Ryan Bingham to take his impulsive trip and throw his away the security of his routines and suffer horribly and comically the consequences of not being true to himself in order to please others. After all when Icarus fell, he died.

You would think Ryan Bingham had learned his lesson. The only impulsive thing he does in the movie ends in disaster. He breaks the rules and steps over the boundary, foundering and fumbling, not even remembering to sign out his rental car correctly. Was he happier as a result? No. He destroyed the thing that brought him most joy. And yet this is the moment of his epiphany. Now he’s repented the sterility of his own life and will try to be like them. Sure we’re are all intrigued by otherness. We should be respect it rather than to convert people, as Jason Reitman does. He seems to believe that everyone should be just like him.

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The surface and beneath the surface