Monday, October 10, 2011

Up in the Air

By s. Monday, October 10, 2011 , , , , , , ,
(109 min, 2009)
Director: Jason Reitman
Writers: Walter Kirn (novel), Jason Reitman (screenplay)
Stars: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick

The Escapist
And in the end
we lie awake
and we dream
of making our escape

- Coldplay, The Escapist
Ryan Bingham has quite an unusual job. He travels across the country and fires people. He spends most of his life flying from one location to another to „let employee go”. He hates his home, he has no contact with his family. He has no real girlfriend, just occasional ones. Apparently, he doesn't even have friends. Yet he is happy, he smiles, he acts friendly, he keeps it together. Somehow the shallowness and superficial nature of his life doesn't bother him. He has one goal and one goal only to reach 10 million airlines. Why? He has no idea why. This is his only aspiration, his only dream. That magical thing that keeps people going. Even when we don't realize, our passions and our hopes and dreams are the only things keeping us going, when we are as alone as Ryan is.

And suddenly one day Ryan's boss introduces him to young employee of their company - Natalie Keener. Natalie invented the system which allows them to fire people over internet. No need to fly to the location, no need to keep living the way Ryan lives. The conflict is already there.

Ryan is so sure of himself he doesn't even feel threatened. Everything Natalie is and does – clumsy suitcase, boyfriend, complete lack of experience – Ryan is sure she is going to fail because of all of this. He is assigned to show her around his job, to teach her how their business works. In the effect Ryan ends up answering tons of questions about love, marriage, kids and other stuff Natalie dreams about. His utterly realistic point of view, where there is no place for love and family shocks Natalie. Ryan doesn't realize that his mission to reach the impossible number of miles spent in the air is his substitute for normal life.

Natalie is not the only one who makes influence – Ryan meets Alex, who is basically his female equivalent. She travels a lot, she is methodical, she is as detached from emotions and sentimentality as he is. Later on it turns out Alex had an escape, a dream of her own – Ryan was that escape. She was married, she had a family. Yet when she was on the road she lived another life. She lived her dream, something that was Ryan's only way of existence. She didn't think anyone can leave that way of living and prefer reality.

Yet he did.

Over the time spent with idealistic Natalie and Alex, who seems so perfect for him, Ryan starts to appreciate normal things, he comes down to earth. He crushes the party and takes Natalie with him, he gives her guidelines, he sends a recommendation to her new job. He actually starts caring about another person. And there's Alex. He takes her to his sister's wedding as a date and he starts making little attempts in reconnecting – even when he fails, he doesn't give up.

The tiny things, seemingly insignificant, change Ryan. Over the course of the movie he carries around paper miniature of his sister and her fiance, because they wanted to have the photos all around the States. Ryan thinks the idea is stupid but then, during rehearsal dinner he gets to hang one of the photos on the wall, next to other ones. It seems, based on those photos, that the two paper people were everywhere, yet they were together. Even in something that fake – artificial travel and memories, Ryan sees that no one is as alone as he is.

The movie is not easy – it shows us three nice characters and then it turns one into the story villain and it breaks the heart of another one. There are many well known beginnings of the scenes – The man figures out he loves the woman, so he runs to meet her....the endings to those scenes are not sweet, they are bitter and real. The story is an incredible mix of comedy and drama – amazing editing in all the traveling scenes, the music, the quick and witty lines and then on the other side some really poignant observations and the crushing reality of unfulfilled desires.

It's amazing that the only character who gets what he wanted, what he thought really wanted is Ryan. He's finally got his 10 million miles by the end of the movie and the ridiculousness of it, of that silly little desire hits him hard. Here he was ready to make a connection and the fake nature of his own world betrayed him – come to think of it Alex didn't really have to tell him anything. After all wasn't she also his escape? Someone to talk to? Someone to spend time with? The idea of spending most of your life working, being isolated, with nothing to come home to is so freaky that it astonishes me that movie actually made that convincing.

Clooney is excellent. I have seen most of his movies and I've never seen one where he would mix his comedy and drama talent so well. He is fantastic delivering comedy lines and handling funny situations – like when Natalie is having a hysteria attack and Ryan has no idea what to do, and absolutely and excruciatingly heartbreaking in sad ones – the subway scene where he talks over the phone with Alex broke my heart. I usually appreciate spectacular scenes – where the actor explodes with emotions he is supposed to be presenting. - Clooney's performance in 'Up in the Air' is very subtle, it is build on tiny things – gestures, looks, hurt smiles. He doesn't play himself, I have seen very little of him in this role. I still prefer his work in 'Michael Clayton', but this is definitely Academy Award worthy. To pull something like this off....only he could do that.

I just love Vera Farmiga. She should have got massive amount of praise for her work in 'Nothing but the Truth', but for some reason she didn't. She is an amazing actress and nowadays she ranks somewhere behind Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton on my list. She is fabulous here. She is clearly falling for Ryan, but in the end she is able to hurt him in horrifying way, she is tough, but she has her own escapes and own weak points. It must have been difficult to portrait character that will clearly be hated by the audience by the end of the movie, but Farmiga makes it work so well that we actually wonder – if she was the protagonist of the story, most likely our sympathy would lie with her.

Anna Kendrick, who plays Natalie was hailed by the media as the 'sensation' of this movie. She is very good, but I don't see anything unusual, anything worth all this fuss. She was very natural in her role and she did everything she was supposed to, but still, I think it is very over-hyped performance. This is for sure going to be nominated for Academy Award, why? Who cares why? Academy Awards are given to people, without any reason or common sense. The role is good, but it's not worthy of such high praise.

So far the movie is my favorite movie of 2009, but let's face it, the competition was almost none. However, „Up in the air” can held its own in many polls – it is witty, insightful, very well-acted, original and it made me reflect.

Most of people have families, have jobs, have love, have dreams. Here we see characters who try to have that and fail, either because they have to create double lives or because they focus only on one thing. In the end of the film Ryan probably decides to go back to his old self, without high emotions, without the urge to have romantic dreams. But maybe those steps we saw him take so shyly in the movie will help him find real happiness one day. Ryan says that 'moving is living'. His problem was that he wasn't moving, he was standing still. Never took a chance, never changed anything. „The slower we move, the faster we die.”.

In the most memorable scene of the movie Ryan talks about the weight of life, how we should put everything in the bag and how we should notice that relationships are the heaviest part of our life.
He is right – without them we would be like him, we would fly up in the air, away from people, away from real world. So I hope that my life weighs a lot.

And how much does your life weigh?

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