Having seen Up in the Air earlier this week, I wanted to offer some quick thoughts on the movie without spoiling any of it. Generally, I thought the movie was excellent, but I left feeling sad, and as more time passed, I felt even sadder.
First, let’s discuss the happy part. In the scene of the characters crashing the tech conference party, I was drawn back into memories of every awkward law librarian party that I have attended where there has been dancing. This isn’t to say I wasn’t dancing at those events. To the contrary, I am usually front and center when it comes to librarian dance parties, because it is the one place that I can say, with a great deal of confidence, that I generally put the other dancers to shame (Let’s be honest, most law librarians lack a keen sense of rhythm). And that feels good. What this movie made me wish, though, is that like in the film, Young MC would be paid to perform at a future Westlaw sponsored shindig. You hear that Thomson Reuters (or whatever your name is next year based on other media/publishing companies with who you may merge)? That is one way you can make this law librarian happy; I want to hear Bust a Move. (Note: this is also my favorite Dance Dance Revolution tune to play with my Mom using her Wii).
Moving on to the more depressing parts, I thought this film did a really good job exploring all of the ways overusing technology alienates us and distorts our human relationships. There is something so bleak that we use mediated interfaces for our saddest interactions (firing someone, breaking up with someone) as well as our seemingly happy interactions (relationships through text messages). It is as if we fear being ourselves and saying what we really think directly to the face of another human being. Technology is turning us all into social cowards. (Note: In my defense, my social cowardliness precedes technology as I have been know to write letters instead of saying something out loud. (A trait I shared with someone else who has been making the news lately.) However, as this phenomenon has become more pronounced through the use of technology, then I have actually reversed course and actually have become more willing to say what I think to someone’s face. One must do what one can to rail against the alienating influences of technology.)
I liked how the film dealt with themes of loneliness too and the different ways in which people experience it. For Clooney’s character, if you are surrounded by people, even if it is only on a plane at 30,000 feet, then you are not lonely. Only when you are alone in your empty apartment can you feel lonely, which is the exact opposite of the way that I experience loneliness. I only feel alone when I am in a room crowded with people.
Finally, this movie deals with the innately human struggle that we all must resolve: how much our relationships with others weigh us down or give our life meaning. According to Clooney’s character, any relationship is a weight that we must remove. He reconsiders this position in several different ways throughout the film in a way I found incredibly realistic. This proposition gets reevaluated in my life daily. Some days I think that the weight of relationships have kept me from making the decisions that would have really made me happy at various points in my life (The character Natalie’s decision to move to Omaha “for a boy” and sacrifice her career stung with familiarity). Other days, I feel like one big point of life is that we are here to make relationships and be with other people, no matter how difficult that may seem. Other days I am just happy to be with my family or friends and don’t think about it at all.
This movie made me feel very sad for George Clooney’s character. It also made me feel a little sad for George Clooney.