(Planet Me)
Monday, January 25, 2010
Up In The Air

You’ve met people like Ryan Bingham before. They’re known to some as Seagull Managers : You’ve never seen them before, they appear from nowhere, shit all over everything, and then you never see them again.

I’ve met people like this. Three years ago, an hour with two people like this, two people whose names I’m not sure I ever knew, let alone remember, in a room in Old Street. One had a moustache, thinning once-red hair. The Other looked like a jowled, inflated Gordon Brown. It was only an hour. Thirty minutes in which I auditioned for my future.

In two parts. The first one was a thirty minute interview by two people who did not know anything about what my job actually was, or what I actually did. What they did know, and I suspect they had decided before I entered the room, was that I was probably not going to get the job. And thus I preened and pirouetted to prove I was who I was to people who didn’t even know who they were. And at the end of it, two people who couldn’t get my job title right decided I was ‘displaced’ and not suitable for a role I singlehandedly built from scratch.

So yes, you know people like Ryan Bingham. They appear and they disappear, and they destroy your life, and they walk away knowing they’re just doing their job.

Hey, Cancer is just doing it’s job. Fufilling it’s cancerous mission statement.

“Up In The Air” is a story, of a small part of his life – what feels like six or eight weeks, as Ryan Bingham, an anonymous man, travels across the skies and changes his life without even knowing it.

Lets not go into plot, because really, there’s little point. Lives don’t have points or character arcs, just developments that we retrospectively make sense out of.

But Bingham is a man always on the move. In one job, I probably did more miles than your average rock band : managing a country, and finding myself in a sample week in Leeds, Sheffield, London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and London. On one occasion, my commute was a 16 seat, 2 engine propeller plane to a place with two flights a day in and out. Not that this matters. Ryan Bingham is King Of The Air : 322 days a year he is on a flight, in a hotel, running away from the concept of home in the land that promised us land itself.

The travel tips he offers, in his likeable, but self-exiled way, are true. As a motivational speaker, his bland but effective style sounds like a man talking to himself. As a man integrated with the society around him, he is a failure. But Bingham lives a life the way that society would sometimes like us to – as creatures whose only worth exists as a transactional consumer, eating food, checking in to hotels, a participant in the capitalist corporate consumer culture, but not a human being finding the necessary greater meaning within. Part of me wonder what exactly that teenage girlfriend did to him to hurt him so much. It is no great surprise that he approaches other human beings as quite as disposable.

But it’s a lonely life, and throughout the film, Bingham realises the cost and the price of his loneliness, that his freedom is a prison of its own, and finds that a life he could’ve changed, he now cannot, and the one thing he wants more than anything else now he cannot find his way back to. “Up In The Air” is a touching, quietly human film about choices we make that end up being permanent, about a small decision that becomes the biggest decision you may ever make, and how what we think we want we only want because we haven’t considered anything else.

Clooney provides an authentic performance, being one of the few actors who always looks like George Clooney, but ceases being George Clooney playing Ryan Bingham, and becomes Ryan Bingham : an apt and capable supporting cast including Vera Farmiga – almost all largely low-key actors – add a quiet verisimilitude. Life is a question, and the question this film asks is “What’s In Your Backpack?” – it’s a strange question we never find the answer to, but isn’t that just like life itself?

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