Up In The Air

Bleak-onomy. n. blĭ-kŏn'ə-mē. 1. The study of phenomena related to our current moment of economic tailspin; 2. The practice of navigating our current moment of economic tailspin; 3. Our current moment of economic tailspin.

Up In The Air is a bleakonomic movie in all three senses of the term. It begins and ends with ennui, but the good kind - the kind once felt when staring out the window of an airplane at dusk, at the beginning of a long flight to nowhere special. The lights are dimmed, dinner has come and gone, everyone else is in a little personalised bubble with nothing to do, nowhere to be, and plenty of time to get there. Jason Reitman has achieved something quite remarkable in this film - he's made airports, airplanes and highway hotels feel safe and stable, and turned home, office and family into the places where distance and rootlessness can most keenly be experienced.

George Clooney (like a cross between salaryman and the Marlboro man) sweeps through ticketing, security, car rental and hotel lines, assured of his place in the world and his function: in Detroit, in Miami, in Kansas City, in Wichita, in St Louis, in Phoenix, in Dallas, his character's (Ryan Bingham) task is to fire people in ailing companies, dying industries. What do people do and say when they're faced with a stranger brought in to jettison them from their offices and careers? Reitman used real people, recalling real firings: they take out pictures of their children, they ask for reasons, they feel betrayal and outrage, they weep. In response he offers them the choice of believing in an obvious and tantalising hope: that being fired is the beginning of something good, that they are being let go - as in set free - to pursue happiness, without the burden of a job (or a paycheck, or health insurance.)

In a story about rootlessness, the pivot is a woman (Vera Farmiga: warm but not soft, frank but not honest) - herself a traveller, who makes Bingham wonder if his own happiness might lie on land. Their chemistry is lovely to behold, but is it dependent on their continuing to meet only in airports and motels? One watches Bingham begin to make new choices, seek out connection, himself becoming more vulnerable to the dangers of hoping.

There's a lot that's interesting here: Reitman began this film well before the economic troubles, but also captures the drama taking place in office parks, conference calls, cubicles everywhere these days. This is a funny tragedy, a sad comedy, a romance without love. It's also part of a growing genre of American films (Away We Go, Juno, anything by Wes Anderson) whose view of the world reflects, I think, a new American aesthetic - close to the ground, invested in the drama of the everyday, nostalgic, sincere, but also clinical in its view of human failings, gently resigned to disappointment.

1 comment:

  1. I've been wanting to see this for some time. (Critter-related schedule constraints have crimped my movie viewing.) From all I hear, this is very much a movie of our time.

    And I'm clapping my hands with child-like glee that you're posting. Hurrah!