Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #18

Re: Up in the Air (2009)

Regarding Up in the Air, I must disagree with the statement by the reader who writes:

It would seem that Ryan and Alex both need to move beyond the shallowness of their lives to find each other. The sudden introduction of her being married seems to me an arty contrivance merely to shock the audience.

It seems to me that the fact of her being married was not designed to be so much a shock to the viewer, as a shock to Ryan, a wake-up call of sorts. Neither I nor the other people I saw it with were shocked by this. We all knew something was up with Alex, even if we didn’t quite know what it was going to be. From Ryan’s perspective, she was simply too good to be true. When she says to Ryan “Think of me as yourself, but with [different anatomy],” the audience should see what Ryan misses: He should take that not as a reassurance, but as a warning.

I don’t think the movie is so much “wanting to affirm the good of marriage,” but is instead offering a critique of modern disconnected relationships, sexual and otherwise. Note that this, and Reitman’s two previous films as well, have a strong moral dimension, that, while perhaps not rising to the level that we as Christians would view as ideal, offers a subtle but strong alternative to the moral zeitgeist.

Once again, I agree for the most part, though I suspect the conflict between you and my previous correspondent is more a matter of perspective than of material contradiction.

I think the earlier correspondent is right to feel that the revelation of Alex’s marriage is in some way a falsely contrived betrayal of the characterization of Alex up to that point, since as I said people rarely live with that level of compartmentalization and duality without showing signs of the strain. In that sense, I do think the film is trying to shock the viewer, even though you rightly expected some sort of revelation precisely because of the seeming absence of conflict in that relationship up to that point. I agree with you that the revelation is intended to function as a wake-up call to Ryan, and that the film offers a critique of modern disconnected relationships more than an affirmation of marriage per se. I find the critique unconvincing, though, much like Ryan’s attempt to reassure the jittery groom-to-be.

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