"Up in the Air" is all about how people change as the people in their lives change.
Ryan Bingham travels 270 days a year. He is soon to become only the 7th person ever to clock 10 million air points. His sisters don't get to see him at all. But he loves it all - the air terminals, the hotel rooms, the food at the terminals, the continuous moving around.
He fires people for a living, when employers are too squeamish to do it themselves.
He is smooth, terrific at his heartless job. And famous on the lecture tour for his treatise on how to live off a rucksack ("Your relationships are the heaviest component of your life. Lighten your bag of them. We are not swans, we are sharks. Slower we move, faster we die")
And then he meets his female counterpart - Alex ("I am you with a vagina!") And they find chemistry, and start to re-arrange their crazy travel schedules to meet, and mate.
And then along comes young Harvard graduate, Natalie, out to change how things work in the company Ryan works in. And Ryan is in danger of being set to start operating from the home-town office. No travelling again. Devastation is near. He abhors Natalie. And to add salt to the wounds, he has to show Natalie the way things work out there. And they are up in the air, together.
And, as so very often happens, life is never the same again.
The slickness of the film, the charisma of its actors, their seductions never ever give a hint of what is to follow.
Time and again, in film and life, we have seen the vulnerability of the lonely man. And the disaster which ardour wroughts. Someone who is tough in his job, just ends being clueless and guileless - and tragically, child-like - in matters of the heart.
George Clooney is beautiful, in his smugness, in his desiring and desirability. One realizes how much we miss him as a lover, when he lights up his life, and ours, as he delves into his affair with Vera Farmiga. The essential vacuity of his life stares at him starkly.
And when Anna Kendrick enters his life as Natalie, the essential pain his job causes, starts to show on his face, as he watches Anna do what he has done for aeons, and sees what it does to her, and what it does to him, but doesn't show.
And one sees he was never ever tough.
The film is continuously funny, and insightful.
Natalie is eager, ambitious, in love, but unable to understand a man like Ryan. When he tells her about his ambition to reach 10 million air points, all she says is "Why do men have to pee on everything, and put a name on it?"
When Alex is leaving a tryst, she tells Ryan "Call me when you are lonely." And he stops her and says "I am lonely."
In the end, after he returns to his lone-ranger life, Ryan is all set to start flying again, and as he stands in front of a gigantic flight-detail screen, his shoulders droop. As he gets into the plane, he tells himself that he was back where he loved being, and however bright the city lights below were, his wingtip would always shine brighter.
Alas, we know better.
~ April 25th, 2010
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