Up in the Air by Jason Reitman (based on the book by Walter Kirn) is a wonderful, sad and yet oddly comforting movie. The basic plot line is simple: Ryan Bingham (played by George Clooney, but a surprisingly relatable character despite that and the description that follows) is an executive who goes around firing people whose bosses are too wimpy to do it themselves. He is on the air 320 days a year, and he likes it that way- he finds the artificial uniformity of airports everywhere better than the familiarity of home. All of this is at risk when a new employee (played by Anna Kendrick) comes up with the very efficient idea of conducting these terminations via video conference, and the spectre of a forced lifestyle change hangs over his head through most of the movie. His job is not something that we can really empathize with, but they’ve handled that very nicely: there are a LOT of scenes that describe the trauma of losing your job, and some that play on it as well*.
Ryan Bingham is an interesting man in other ways, too. He sees all property and relationships as “things that weigh you down”; in the seminars that he takes at “leadership conferences”, he asks participants to feel the straps cutting in from the weight of all the things they’re tied to. His only goal in life is to get 10 million frequent flier miles, which would make him only the seventh person ever to achieve it*. In any case, narrative necessity demands that he be taught a lesson in the value of relationships by a beautiful and [SPOILER ALERT] married [/SPOILER ALERT] woman, played by Vera Farmiga. She shares his passion for hoarding “frequent flier miles” and “loyalty points” and they start a completely open relationship, until Bingham gets the inevitable epiphany-”I want more from life! I want a relationship!”- at the most inopportune moment possible, which is when he delivers his keynote speech at the very prestigious conference that he has always been dying to go to. He doesn’t get his Hollywood Ending, though, and that really lends the movie some depth.
To summarize: watch if you can. I wouldn’t necessarily say there are any lessons to learn from it, but even if you don’t find any, it’s good entertainment.
*At least, I think this is meant to be a play on it: “They told me that losing your job is as traumatic as a death in your family, but…it’s like…the office is my family and…I’m the one that’s dead“.
** As he points out, “more men have been to the moon than that”, so I didn’t find this a particularly ridiculous goal, although clearly we are meant to. How is it any different, really, from hoarding money, which is considered to be a perfectly normal goal? Except for the fact that miles/points can only be exchanged for a more limited number of goods, of course, but I don’t think that was anyone’s problem.