'Up in the Air', the new film by Jason Reitman (Juno) was a film with a lesson, but told in an un-preachy, humorous way. It was a film of contrasts, highlighted not least by how the overall sad and poignant theme was communicated through humour.
The main man, Ryan Bingham, played faultlessly by George Clooney, was the epitome of success, yet he fires people for a living, which he does to such a successful degree, that he seems to get a macabre sense of joy out of the process. He spends his time travelling, moving from place to place as if his life depended on it. In a way, he believes it does, stating "the slower we move, the faster we die". We get the odd glimpse into his sterile, cold 'home' in Omaha, bringing him face-to-face with reality; yet he seems reluctant to see the truth. His sister's upcoming wedding presents a huge contrast to this lonely and vacuous life: Bingham is presented with the job of carrying a huge cardboard cutout of the loved-up couple around to various destinations so that they can be photographed in places they can only dream of visiting. Of course, Bingham's suitcase is just too small to accomodate the mammoth model, so we are left with the image of the suave, light-travelling Bingham, with two smiling heads sticking out of his suitcase. This seemed like an afterthought, but was a very clever touch.
On his travels, Bingham meets Alex, a female version of himself, it seems, who also travels for a living. They synchronise their schedules to enable brief encounters in various cities, empty encounters lacking in any emotional connection. However, when Bingham invites her as his guest to his sister's wedding, he falls for her, calling to question the meaning of his life. Her character, full of complexity, was wonderfully played. She comes across as an ice-queen, but the more we see of her, the more she melts into something warmer, though let us not be fooled...
The third main character was Bingham's unlikely partner, bright, ambitious, Natalie Keener, whose innovation presents something of a threat to Bingham. Bingham takes charge of the situation, condescending upon her at every given opportunity, and revealing weaknesses in her hitherto concealed. Her role was ably played by Anna Kendrick, alternating between emotionally charged scenes, to comic scenes, exposing her own flaws, and perhaps strengths: she is human after all.
Overall it was an exceptional film, one whose message roots itself in your memory, and whose characters inveigle you by showing themselves as rounded, imperfect human beings.
A nice touch in terms of directorship, that I read about after seeing the film, was that the characters playing the role of those being fired, were actually fired in real life, so could relate to the experience in a real way. Bingham's virtual firing technique, coupled with the smooth 'pep-talk' of this being a great 'opportunity', show the contrast again between the dismal and the incandescent, comic panache.