Up In the Air

Ryan Bingham returns to his solitary apartment in the film version of Up in the Air. The small one bedroom unit is painted white, it is stark white, empty, feels unlived in and desolate. Well, it really isn’t lived in much. There is scarcely any furniture or food in the pantry. Yet it is his home away from home. His real home is 30,000 feet in a business class seat on American Airlines. He travels around the country informing people they have lost their jobs.

Ryan seems content to spend a few days a year in his bleak apartment somewhere down a long corridor of what might just as well be a Holiday Inn in Timbuktu. He isn’t married, doesn’t want to be, has no children, no desire to have any, not even a regular girlfriend anymore. He lectures to groups of business people on how to lighten up their commitments, how to unpack the backpacks of their life, as he puts it.

His friends are behind the ticket counter at American Airlines, their business-class hostesses and those who greet him when he arrives at the Hilton Hotel in St. Louis, Wichita or wherever he happens to be for the night. They are his hello, Ryan, friends.

Until he meets a charmer, Alex Goran, who has the same type of job in the sky as he does. They flirt, they become lovers, they seem to enjoy being together whenever they can, they spend an almost “dreamy” weekend at his younger sister’s wedding. Ryan and Alex are unerringly on the same wave-length.

But then Ryan begins to miss her, wishes she was around more often, and share more of his life with her. The silent apartment that lies wait begins to feel a bit oppressive. Is this a problem? As far as I could tell, it isn’t.

His forlorn state reminded me of Doris Grumbach’s reflections on the fifty days of solitude she spent in her home on the coast of Maine:

At first I found I missed another voice, not so much a voice responsive to my unexpressed thoughts as an independent one speaking its own words….There was a reward for this deprivation. The absence of other voices compelled me to listen more intently to the inner one. I became aware that the interior voice, so often before stifled or stilled entirely by what I thought others wanted to hear, or what I considered to be socially acceptable, grew gratifyingly louder, more insistent.

They spoke loudly to Ryan too. In the midst of his standard unpack-your-backpack speech one day, he stops abruptly, leaves the podium, and rushes out to fly to Alex’s hometown. He knocks on her door, she comes down the stairs, opens it up, whereupon he glimpses a bunch of kids running up and down the stairs.

Here the film let me down. They let Ryan down far more. Alex was not the person she seemed to be. I search unsuccessfully for clues that she wasn’t.

She never mentioned she was married, never gave him an inkling she was, he thought she was being honest. I guess in a sense she was. She says she thought he knew. And then she admits he was her escape. Simply his escape? She never conveys anything that led me or Ryan to sense that is what he meant to her.

Would it have mattered if he knew? Would their relationship have been any different? Would he have wanted her to play a larger part in his life even if he knew she was married and had children?

Ryan goes back to work, his job is preserved as the firm has given up on an Internet firing project, and he returns to his home in the sky and the friends who cross his path on his journey from one dreary, forlorn town to the