I really like “Up in the Air” for its mature themes. In this Academy Award-nominated movie, the main protagonist Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney, realizes that his life is a journey, not a destination. A self-chosen bachelor (he doesn’t want to be married or have kids), Ryan has one of the loneliest jobs–he’s hired by companies to fire employees, and he flies 322 days of the year. His primary purpose, other than his job and giving the same motivational speech, is to accumulate 10 million frequent flyer miles on American Airlines. When he reaches that goal, he feels surprised, and wishes it wasn’t happening. Even though he’s prepared himself to talk with the pilot who gives him a special metal card, only the seventh ever issued, he can’t remember what he wanted to talk about. What really bothers him, however, are his personal relationships with his younger sister Julie and an attractive frequent traveler Alex.
His younger sister Julie, played by Melanie Lynskey, is getting married, but since Ryan hasn’t been there to support her and their father passed away, she chose her fiance’s uncle to give her away at her wedding. But Ryan redeems himself by talking with Julie’s fiance Jim on the wedding day, and curing him of his cold feet. Jim is having second thoughts because he feels life will become pointless after he gets married, because his life milestones like buying a house and having kids seem so obvious, ending with his death. Ryan consoles him and makes him realize it’s better in life not to be lonely and to have Julie as his co-pilot. I think what’s really missing in this dialogue is that Jim is missing the point of those life milestones: it’s the journey through them that is worth it–witnessing the birth of your first child, their first steps, going to school, etc. There are so many joys in that journey that Ryan can’t explain because he hasn’t experienced them himself. The movie never explains why Ryan chose to be a loner, but I bet it has to do with a bad relationship he’s had, whether with his parents or with a previous ex-girlfriend.
In some hotel bar, Ryan meets Alex, played by Vera Farmiga, who appears to be his soul mate because she’s a frequent flyer and likes all the perks like Ryan does. Alex makes many suggestive comments to Ryan and leads him on, to the point that Ryan invites her to his sister’s wedding and to his high school. But their relationship doesn’t work out in the end, because of an important detail that Alex doesn’t mention and the fact that she feels Ryan is just an escape. In fact, she says he’s a “parenthesis.” Ryan needs a genuine relationship, and the only way to increase his chances is to be grounded somewhere. He needs to be in the same place in order to build meaningful relationships with other people.
The dialogue and cinematography are excellent, and if you like movies with mature themes, I definitely recommend watching “Up in the Air.” This movie will make you think about why you chose the work and personal life you have.