Updated: Feb 18, 2021
As with all movies on this website, our goal is not to provide a complete synopsis of the film, but rather to document how the movie relates to the meaning of life. With that said, be forewarned, there are still spoilers ahead.
Up in the Air was released in 2009, directed by Jason Reitman, and based on a novel of the same name by Walter Kirn. George Clooney stars as Ryan Bingham and Vera Farmiga as Alex Goran.
Ryan's life revolves around travel, so much so that his apartment is practically empty. His job? Firing people. Companies contract his organization so that they don't have to do the dirty work themselves. As such, Ryan built a whole philosophy against anything that would weigh a person down—furniture, clothes, materialistic things, and worst of all, other people and relationships. But, Zen Master Ryan's philosophy fails him after meeting Alex, who would become his part-time lover.
A new hotshot at Ryan's company, Natalie Keener, played by Anna Kendrick, however, has found a new way to fire people—through the internet, or rather, video conferencing. Not having to fly individuals all over the USA to do what could be done online would save the business oodles. Ryan objects, of course, but he has little say in the matter. Natalie and Ryan are sent out one last time in the field as an educational experience for Natalie. Together, during one of their ritualistic firings, Ryan conjures up a lost artifact from one of the employee's resumes—a minor in French culinary arts. So Ryan asks the man, How much did they pay you to give up on your dreams? Answer: 27 grand a year. Like most of us, we end up giving up our dreams for stability, end up settling for that which just kind of makes us happy, while the years slowly kill off all of the people we could have become.
During the trip, ironically, her boyfriend breaks up with her via text message throwing her into existential crisis mode.
Natalie: I thought I'd be engaged by now. I thought by 23, I'd be married, maybe have a kid, corner office by day, entertaining at night. I was supposed to be driving a Grand Cherokee by now.
Alex: Well, life can underwhelm you that way.
Natalie: Where did you think you'd be by now?
Alex: It doesn't work that way. At a certain point, you stop with the deadlines. It can be a little counter-productive.
Natalie: I don't want to say anything that is anti-feminist. I really appreciate everything that your generation did for me.
Alex: It was our pleasure.
Natalie: Sometimes it feels like, no matter how much success I have, it's not gonna matter until I find the right guy. I could have made it work. He really fit the bill, you know. White collar, 6'1, college grad, loves dogs, likes funny movies, brown hair, kind eyes, works in finance but is outdoorsy. I always imagined he'd have a single syllable name like Matt or John or Dave. In a perfect world, he drives a 4-Runner and the only thing he loves more than me is his golden lab. And a nice smile. What about you? Alex: You know, honestly by the time you're 34, all the physical requirements just go out the window. You secretly pray that he'll be taller than you, not an asshole would be nice. Just someone who enjoys my company, comes from a good family. You don't think about that when you're younger. Someone who wants kids. Healthy enough to play with his kids. Please let him earn more money than I do, you might not understand that now but believe me, you will one day. Otherwise that's a recipe for disaster. And hopefully, some hair on his head. I mean, that's not even a deal breaker these days. A nice smile. Yeah, a nice smile just might do it.
As many of us know, life never really turns out as we expected, planned, or even hoped. The irony here is that Natalie gives up her dreams to move to Omaha to be with a man she just kind of likes, but doesn't really love. Like Becca in Undone, an Amazon Original, she is more enthralled with the idea of marriage than the actual person.
Besides firing people and giving lectures on non-attachment, Ryan seems only to have one goal in life—to reach 10 million air travel miles. A goal which he would eventually obtain, and one which would ultimately let him down. The golden moment of achieving 10 million air miles wasn't nearly what he had hoped it to be, partly because he falls for Alex, whom, as it turns out, is happily married. Alex's extra-marital love affair being only an escape for her. Longing for companionship, longing for connection, for intimacy, Ryan becomes confused and depressed.
Eventually, Natalie quits her job after one of the people she fired jumps off a bridge. She moves back to San Francisco. Ryan continues flying, and Alex stays with her family. At the end of the film, we see several individuals reflecting on what got them through the hard times of being unemployed. Below are some of their responses.
When I wake up in the morning and I look over and I see my wife... that gives me the sense of purpose.
Let me get up, let me get out, let me find something. So my kids are my purpose. My family.
What is interesting here is that rather than cast actors for some of the scenes were people are being terminated, Jason Reitman cast real people who lost their jobs.
Overall, I believe what the film is trying to state about the meaning of life is that relationships are what make it meaningful. However, having a relationship for the sake of having a relationship can be just as empty and unfulfilling as an empty house, meaningless miles, etc. Even Ryan realizes this during a talk with Jim, who is about to marry his sister.
Jim: Well, last night I was just kinda laying in bed and I couldn't get to sleep. So I started thinking about the wedding and the ceremony, and about our buying a house and moving in together. And having a kid, and having another kid and then Christmas and Thanksgiving and spring break. Going to football games, and then all of a sudden they're graduating. They're getting jobs, they're getting married. And, you know, I'm a grandparent. And then I'm retired. I'm losing my hair, I'm getting fat. And then the next thing you know I'm dead. I'm just, like...I can't stop from thinking, what's the point? I mean, what is the point?
Ryan: The point?
Jim: What am I starting here?
Ryan: Jim, it's...marriage. It's one of the most beautiful things on earth. It's what people aspire to.
Jim: You never got married.
Ryan: That's true.
Jim: I mean, you never even tried.
Ryan: Well, it's hard to define try.
Jim: I don't know, just you seem happier than all my married friends.
Ryan: Look, Jim, I'm not going to lie to you. Marriage can be a pain in the ass. And you're kinda right. This all is just stuff that leads to your eventual demise.
Ryan: And we're all on running clocks. And they can't be slowed down or paused. And...we all end up in the same place.
Ryan: There is no point.
Jim: There is no point. That's what I'm saying.
Ryan: You know, uh... I'm not normally the guy you would talk to about stuff like this. If you think about it... your favorite memories, the most important moments in your life. Were you alone?
Jim: No, I guess not.
Ryan: Come to think of it, last night, the night before your wedding when all this shit is swirling around in your head, weren't you guys sleeping in separate bedrooms?
Jim: Yeah, Julie went back to the apartment and I was just by myself in the honeymoon suite.
Ryan: Kinda lonely, huh?
Jim: Yes, it was pretty lonely.
Ryan: Life's better with company.
Overall - 9
Meaning of Life Relevance - 7
Uniqueness – 4
Did you see the movie? What did you think?