Up in the Air is about a man (Ryan Bingham), who spends most of his life up in the air, flying from one place to another. He is away from home about 300 days a year and his goal is to reach the 10 million mile mark in air travel— something that has been accomplished by only six other people. Up in the air also serves as a metaphor for his disconnectedness to things on the earth—he has no roots. He is single, detached from his siblings, and without friends. He has only acquaintances, business associates, and one night stands. This is all brought home by the motivational speaking he does where he uses a backpack to make the point about not being weighed down by things (especially relationships).
Bingham’s primary job is as an HR consultant. Specifically, he fires people whose employers lack the backbone to do so themselves. He is the corporate version of the Terminator. He flies all over the country delivering devastating news to people that threatens to destroy their rootedness. He loves his job and is under the delusion that he is great at it because as someone who is disconnected from everyone, he has no real clue of how what he does affects people.
Tension comes primarily in the form of two women he meets who mirror him. The first woman (Alex), presents herself as a female version of him. Their casual meetings threaten to develop into an actual relationship and rather than running from this possibility as he would have in the past, Bingham’s circumstances cause him to a least consider it. The second woman he meets is a young, co-worker (Natalie), who is a newer, upgraded version of himself. She proposes to save their company a significant amount of money by doing the terminations by videoconferencing rather than traveling to the actual workplace. In a delicious bit of irony (besides the fact that I was watching this movie on a plane), Bingham is deeply offended at the impersonal nature of this new method, when the deeper reality is that losing his comfortable, depersonalized lifestyle is what he is ultimately concerned with. Both women have made him confront and question the life he has chosen for himself and have left him up in the air.
Up In The Air is a strong indictment of the emptiness of a life lived without community. And there’s a stone or two thrown at our modern attempts to substitute technological interactions for personal ones. The movie will make you think about what is important in life (relationships), and how we treat them.