Pixel Tracker

Monday, December 10 , 2018, 7:27 am | Mostly Cloudy 48º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Up in the Air’

It's an insightful film about the choices we make

3 Stars — Insightful

Detaching ourselves from others is one way to avoid having to carry the weight and responsibilities of life. The difficulty with this solution is that when we avoid any relationship that requires the weight of commitment and the responsibilities of caring for another, we end up isolated and alone. This truth is insightfully presented by Jason Reitman (Juno) as both director and screenwriter in his film Up in the Air.

Sharing the writing credit with Sheldon Turner (The Longest Yard), Reitman’s central character is Ryan Bingham (George Clooney).

A middle-age man who is approaching the dubious distinction of racking up 10 million frequent flier miles on American Airlines, Bingham is hired by companies to downsize their companies. With the companies unwilling to fire their own employees, Bingham flies in as a hired gun to do it for them. Although this unusual job requires Bingham to be detached from the people he is firing, the fact is that he has chosen to be detached in the rest of his life, too.

In his world of spending 322 days a year in the air and in hotels, Bingham’s path crosses with a woman of a similar lifestyle, Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga). In mutual self-interest, they begin a relationship of witty repartee and uncommitted sex. Predictably, this is found to be insufficient, but in an unexpected way we won’t reveal.

When Bingham’s company hires a young woman who talks the company into firing by Internet teleconferencing, Bingham’s pushback finds him taking her on the road to show her the human side of the industry. The young woman is Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick). Having followed her boyfriend to Omaha, Neb., Keener’s obvious intelligence and ingenuity is not matched by her life experience or maturity. It is her conversations with Bingham that reveal both the nature of his decisions and the emptiness of his life choices.

The film works on several levels and is a modern morality play of sorts in its reflection and indictment of our culture. The increasing isolation of individuals in our society because of mobility, technology and lack of commitment to others reflects life in the 21st century. The depiction of firing employees and downsizing companies is a relevant and all-too-real reflection of our current economy.

Bingham is a type of everyman in his professional execution. At the peak of his career, his experience of being regarded as passé by technology and his struggle to justify his seasoned approach to a much younger replacement is all too familiar. Also sadly familiar is his lack of morality and compassion, because there are no spiritual values or community support to be found in his life. He has even lost meaningful connections with his family.

The strength of the film lies not only in the impeccable acting, but also the excellent writing. The characters are believable while also being engaging, and some nonprofessional actors are incorporated into the “firing” scenes that bring the film an unusual depth of authenticity. The talks that Bingham gives as a motivational speaker as well as his conversations with Goran and Keener are not only well written, but will cause any viewer to think a little more deeply about their own life choices.

It’s in this deeper revelation of what does — and doesn’t — make a purposeful, meaningful and fulfilling life that makes the film a gift to all who view it.


» The astute statements at the end of the film about the coping mechanisms of those who lose their jobs are by real people expressing their real experiences. How do you cope with your losses?

» Explaining his job as “taking people at their most fragile and setting them adrift,” Bingham recognizes that however professional he may be in the moment, there is a tremendous indifference that occurs when a person is fired. When a company must downsize, what do you think should be done to make the process humane?

» If detachment leaves us alone and love causes us pain, how do we navigate between those two realities? Some religions suggest that we detach from life so we will feel no pain, while Jesus tells us that we are to love and then forgive when we are hurt. How do you choose to live: protecting yourself by detaching, or connecting with others by loving?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.