Up in the Air with Sisyphus (and spoilers)

Up in the Air got such great reviews, comparing it to the great old screwball comedies. I was excited to see it, expecting to finally see Clooney do a Cary Grant role with Vera Farmiga as a worthy foil. I’ve loved her since the American version of Touching Evil on USA. The trailers and ads looked great and funny.

I was depressed for days after seeing the movie. The thing should have come with a warning label, “Do Not See This Film If You’re Currently Un- or Underemployed.” (Though my friend whom I saw it with is fully employed and she was down for days as well.) Comedies are supposed to make you leave the theater feeling better, not worse, right? I read a quote by Farmiga that gave away that her character dumps Clooney’s before I saw it (thanks nymag.com!), so I knew that part didn’t end happily. I didn’t know just how unhappily until it started unfolding and my stomach started knotting up in dread.

Maybe I was expecting too much. I mean, a movie about firing people isn’t going to be laugh a minute, it’s going to be hard to watch at times, especially when real people are used to play the people getting fired. By the way, it was odd that no one started crying while being let go. In those situations, I cry like a girl, even while my brain is totally logical and trying to process what is going on and stop the waterworks while asking pertinent questions. It is mortifying, because once you start crying you become A Girl, not a professional woman in charge of her emotions. It’s nothing I can control though, and I try to make light of it if I can. I know I’m not the only woman this happens to, so I expected to see at least one woman cry while asking about her severance package. Didn’t happen, though the woman who got hives was amazing.

I think my problem with the movie was that I couldn’t figure out what Ryan Bingham’s journey was, what he had learned at the end that made him different from at the beginning, what he had gotten along the way. He had fallen for a woman, but he’d been rejected as a partner by her and it seemed clear he wouldn’t be happy going on as before knowing she was married with kids. He’d gotten his ten million miles, but it seemed like a hollow victory in the end. He had accustomed himself to the idea of being grounded and doing his job from the office in Omaha, but then he was sent out again. He ended up in the same place he began, just more aware of what that place was and what it meant.

That might have been the journey, it could have been the journey. Like Sisyphus Bingham rolled the rock to the top of the mountain, only to watch it roll back down. He got his ten million miles, only to realize it was worth less than he thought. He was working for it for so long, yet when he got it he didn’t realize it would be on that flight because he had found something else, someone else, to be interested in. You could see he didn’t know what to talk about with the head AA pilot, and looked almost embarrassed at the fuss being made over him. He looked out over all he had achieved and saw it wasn’t all that much. Then it rolled back down the hill, leaving him to start over again.

But if that was the story, I didn’t see the moment when Clooney’s shoulders dropped, when he realized that he would be doing the same thing over and over again, when he shrugged and put his tired shoulder under the rock and started pushing it up the mountain again. I think that moment was supposed to be when he looked up at the departures board in the airport, but it didn’t read for me. Almost, but not quite the level of resignation you have at that moment. Because it is resignation, resignation to the knowledge that your fate is set and will not change, despite your having changed and now being aware of how hollow your life is. I think Clooney is a strong enough actor to convey that awareness, so I fault the director. Jason Reitman has never slept in his aunt’s closet while trying to make it, he’s likely never struggled that hard in his charmed life. I heard one reporter refer to the director of the film as “Ivan Reitman,” an interesting mistake. I wonder if Jason Reitman has ever been fired; I doubt it as he hasn’t told such a story in any of the press he did for the film and it should be the first thing anyone asks him about. I think the movie was good, but not great. It could have been great directed by someone who had done some real suffering, who had slept in a closet and had been fired from work that was important to him. Someone with less knowledge of airports and more knowledge of the poor schlubs stuck in them.


January 21, 2010. Tags: , , . Movies.

One Comment

  1. laura replied:

    Ooooh, I couldn’t agree more…I did think it was a good movie but def. not a great movie. It’s a movie I saw once and don’t really care ever to see again and yes, as you know it made me really depressed for days. I LOVE your comparison to Sisyphus – brilliant!! That really nails it – what was Ryan’s journey? Cause I sure didn’t feel like anything changed at all. Things changed for the girl who moved on and got a better job…but as you said Ryan is left pushing that same rock up the hill again and again. I was let go from a company one time just like what Ryan did. They hired someone like Ryan (she was female) – it was very similar…and yes when they told some of us…there were tears. Maybe Jason Reitman needs to go on something like ‘Sullivan’s Travels’ – that might help him 🙂

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