I know I've opened with this angle before, but I honestly do love titles and how they relate to the work they label. Take a love story, take a documentary, and throw in a sort of common everyday kind of direction that you might find perusing cable TV channels. Take it all, and toss it all up in the air. You'll see that some elements float nicely together. Sometimes it all just seems to hang together without a strong wind for direction. But overall, the sprightly dance is like cloud; partially familiar,unique (which is another way of saying lonely), and something that improves upon reflection. That's what this film is.
It's amazing how effective the unfamiliar is. Simply not doing things the way most others do or in a way that you don't expect puts movies like Up in the Air into a strange and unique place of appreciation. Understanding the film starts with figuring out who the main character is. It ends with contemplating who changed, how, and to what degree. I assumed it was Ryan, played by George Clooney, but by the end of the film I wasn't so sure. From the opening he's a man with certain kind of isolated, lonely lifestyle based on his self made, personal philosophy. And throughout the film he gets a "sidekick," a lover, a brother in law, and a new way to do his job. All of these events and characters are designed more or less to inspire or evoke a change in Ryan. Yet, by the end of the film he's back up in the air. Little changes in his life. Not even pursuing a life of company and companionship with Alex, his lover, phased him all that much or all that long.
So perhaps Natalie Keener is the one who changes the most. While Ryan ultimately learns to do things for others without a reluctant attitude and he achieves his goal of becoming an American Airlines 10 million milier, Natalie learns about people. Crushing them, guiding them, sticking with them, abandoning them, and how they grow old a feat more complicated than the biological processes that bind us all. Her conversation with Ryan and Alex in particular is a good example of some of the complex ideas the film presents. The dreams of Natalie's perfect mate are compared point for point with Alex's more realistic and less ambitious desires. After a detailed description of both, Natalie can only think that settling is sad. To her, settling is the equivalent of giving up.
So as the viewer we get to peer a bit into the future of these three characters. Ryan continues to stay up in the air rather than fixed on the ground, an apt physical metaphor that reflects his personal philosophy of solitude, freedom from excess baggage (responsibility), and a sort of elite and somewhat superficial rapport with everyone around him. From the canned greeting at the airport check in assistants to his practice of living out of a carry on bag only, we see Ryan's life and future.
Alex admits that her relationship with Ran is her escape from her home and family life. Throughout the film she develops her adulterous relationship, yet protects her "real life." Up in the Air is a film that lightly tosses around different philosophical ideas. Nothing too grand as why are we here. Or, at least it's not couched in such obvious terms. The various laid off individuals who look and act like the everyday people you might see at your own work, chime in with their view of pointers. Yes, losing one's job can be devastating, but there's more to live for. Family, spouses, and children give many of these unemployed purpose. And it's revelations like this that support the themes or real life, side lifes/escapes, and the purpose for living. "What's the point?" This is the question Ryan's brother-in-law proposed. And this question is left somewhat unanswered by Ryan. And the film's answer is equally nebulous, which, I think, makes it so wonderful. Like an amorphous cloud, we all think we see something in this film, yet it can be so hard to describe it's exact shape. Without as much as a goodbye or an impersonal text, Ryan ends the call and the relationship with Alex, a woman with the double life.
And finally there's Natalie. By the end of the film, she's done chasing the boy that didn't work out. She quits her job laying people off and pursues the more suitable career that she passed up to follow her heart. Ryan certainly seems to believe in her. Despite their differences in philosophies, they both changed each other for the better.
So, Up in the Air is a story about how 3 characters meets up and returns to their separate lives. The movie is slow moving yet intriguing. The acting performances fit, but they aren't the most interesting part of the experience. The direction is pretty nice, just not exactly inspiring. All the other details of this film are up the air. Reach for them if you want, and enjoy the flight. I did.