Up in the Air – A Review

January 10, 2010 at 11:44 pm (Uncategorized)

I always hated those movie reviews in Socialist Worker that focused on any movie that was mildly critical of a particular aspect of capitalism, magnifying that small instance, and then concluding the film’s real shortcoming is it doesn’t call for the overthrow of capitalism. 

The thing is any realistic depiction of life is in fact a critique of capitalism. If it shows how capitalism affects, no, ruins people’s lives, how it be anything other than a critique?

Over the holidays, I went to see Jason Reitman’s new film Up in the Air, which certainly does focus on an unpleasant aspect of capitalism; namely its tendency to grind up people’s lives in the pursuit of profit.

George Clooney stars as Ryan Bingham, a man who sends his life literally up in the air in a plane. The double entendre of the title becomes obvious as the film’s central point unfolds.

Bingham works for a company which fires people for a living. When companies lay off employees, but lack the intestinal fortitude to do it themselves, Bingham’s company is there to do the dirty work. As Jason Bateman as the company’s oily president proclaims in the depth of the recession, now is our time.

But he who lives by the sword, sometimes dies by it. Bingham has evolved his career into a lifestyle choice. He is free because he is not tied down (Bingham also gives lectures on the theme of “What’s in your backpack?” suggesting living a life free of people and things). So when the ironically named Natalie Keener suggests the company, in the name of efficiency and cost-cutting of course, fire people over the internet, Bingham realizes his lifestyle is threatened too.

Interwoven with this theme is a casual relationship Bingham begins with another frequent flier Alex (the marvellous Vera Farmiga). In the course of this relationship and his sister’s wedding, Bingham flinches, and almost learns a lesson. And perhaps that’s what’s so great about this film: It doesn’t wimp out on its premise and give everyone a nice neat happy ending.

At the end of the film,  Bingham is left gazing at the flight board, and we fully appreciate the film’s title. 

But as charming as George Clooney is, and his charm is considerable, the thing that I was left with is the performance of some of the extras in the film. When they were shooting scenes  in St. Louis and Detroit, Reitman advertised in the local papers for people who would like to take part in a documentary about losing a job. He received over 100 responses, and ended up filming about 60 people (30 in each city). 22 made it into the film.

In one memorable moment,  one man repeats the truism that the loss of a job often feels like a death in the family. But, he says, it felt like I died. sometimes a piece of art doesn’t have to call for the overthrow of capitalism to show the horror and destructive ness of the system.



  1. Jasper Aalbers said,

    One considerable disagreement. My feeling was that, in the end, Ryan Bingham is actually relieved he can continue his lifestyle of sterile, unbound up-in-the-airness. And to be honest, even though I do not share his lifestyle, nor aspire to do so, I was happy for him, and respected his mindset. His job mey be despisable, but the attached lifestyle is a personal choice and not in any way fundamentally amoral or so.

    • fischerzed said,

      Thanks for the input. I had to go back and re-read what I had written, but stand by my comments about Bingham’s future. To me it seems much more ambigious. True, he’s returning to the familiar lifestyle which had served him well in the past, but it seems to me that he’s also not the same person. He at least has a sense of what the other lifestyle offered, and it was one that he, albeit briefly, wanted. In that sense, his own future is not quite so clear cut. He’s no longer entirely the same person as he once was.

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