A Review of Up in the Air
A Landscape of Impossible Options
By KIM NICOLINI
If you’d asked me before I did this movie, “What’s the worst thing about losing your job in this type of economy?” I would’ve probably said the loss of income. But as I talked to these people, that rarely came up. What people said, time and time again, was: “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” It was really about a lack of purpose. They would say, you know, “After I finish this interview, I’m going to go get in my car, and I have nowhere to be.” And I can’t imagine thinking that every day.
– Jason Reitman on the making of “Up In The Air”
“How much does your life weigh?” This is the question that Ryan Bingham (played to perfection by George Clooney) asks in Up In The Air, Jason Reitman’s brilliant new movie that so beautifully, hilariously, and brutally encapsulates America’s current cataclysmic economy. This is a question for the current economic landscape where people are losing their jobs, their homes, and their every possession at astronomical rates, an economy where people are being left empty handed and without many options for a new future. Ryan Bingham thinks he understands the transience of material culture. That’s why he delivers informational seminars telling people to eliminate excess weight in their lives. Bingham understands the fragility of economic stability and material acquisition because he spends the large majority of his life traveling the country and telling hard working Americans they’re out of jobs. Yes, Ryan Bingham is a professional hit man in this depression era economy which has generated a real unemployment rate of 22 percent. He packs his suitcase, takes to the air, and is like some kind of corporate downsizing angel of death as he delivers bad news encased in motivational speeches that sound like something he pulled out of a fortune cookie.
As the movie follows the story of Bingham and the people he encounters, it delivers one hell of a powerful commentary on where we stand in today’s economic landscape. While it could be classified as a depression era comedy (and it plays like the best of them), in the end the movie is more devastating than funny. Sure, it has loads of exquisitely hilarious moments in which we laugh our asses off, but ultimately the movie is a sad and tragic tale of the dehumanizing effects of neo-liberal economics and the decimation of the American workforce.