>Up, Up in the Air

>A couple weeks ago we rented the movie Up. I’d heard a lot about how great it was, that it was basically an adventure story, etc., so I figured what the hell. For the most part, ever since The Incredibles (which was awesome) I’ve avoided most of the animated movies that have come out over the last few years for a couple reasons. First off, I don’t have a young kid anymore so I’m no longer “obligated” to do so, and secondly, as much as I enjoyed things like the two Toy Story movies, I’ve grown weary of that style of computerized animation. The only movies I can think of in recent memory that I’ve seen and really liked — Wallace & Gromit and Fantastic Mr. Fox — are totally outside that mode. My final assessment of Up is that it was an enjoyable enough flick, but not as fun as The Incredibles. Nor was it as clever as either Wallace & Gromit or Fantastic Mr. Fox. Enjoyed it, but didn’t love it.

The first act of the movie, though, hit me as hard as anything I’ve seen. In the beginning we meet this shy young fella who idolizes a dashing, brave explorer/adventure hero. He meets a young girl, far more the daredevil than he is, with the same interest. They grow up together, and marry, and he promises that one day they will take an adventure to the wilds of Paradise Falls. We see a montage of their life together, growing old, until finally she dies. He realizes, sadly, that they never took the adventure, and now it’s too late.

Wow. That theme really kicked me in the gut. I look at my own life, and I’m sure most people do this, and think of all the things I’ve set aside for other responsibilities, and the excuses I’ve hidden behind for not doing other things. Then it’s too late. It could be adventure. It could be time spent with loved ones. Whatever the reason, waiting for the “perfect” time or a particular financial circumstance, or ANYTHING really, is a poor excuse for not pursuing the things that are really in our deepest of hearts. And that is a damn tragedy.

I felt the movie lost that theme a little as it progressed, and I suppose for the best, at least for a kid’s show. When the plot involving the little kid and the actual adventure and the talking dogs and all the “cute” things to appeal to younger audiences kicked in it lost me a little bit — I was still affected by that opening ten or fifteen minutes. Julia and I even shared a look; just looking back even at 2009 and the things we wanted to do but didn’t was enough to really make me want to take stock of how I’m spending my time, and money, and how it relates to doing the things I want to do with my life.

On a similar note, last night we saw the latest George Clooney vehicle, Up in the Air. This film may ultimately be my favorite of the year, for a number of reasons; it’s in the top two or three, for sure. Right out of the gate, the opening montage of credits — various shots from the air of different airports and landscapes all over the USA — was probably the coolest one I’ve seen since Watchmen (still the best ever, in my opinion). As a guy who travels a lot, Clooney’s character was a man I could relate to at a certain level. I don’t log the miles he does, but I still probably pull in anywhere from 60K to 120K air miles/year, for the past four years running or so. Of all the different cities and airports they showed him flying into — Des Moines, Wichita, Las Vegas, Chicago, Tulsa, etc. — the only one, oddly enough, that I haven’t been in and out of myself was Miami. So all the travel-related stuff, the tricks for getting around quick, the rental car stuff, etc. was kind of fun to see as a snapshot of my life.

There were big differences too — besides the obvious one being that I am waaaay better looking than George Clooney. Travel isn’t my life, it’s part of it. I’m not anal at all about keeping track of miles, reward stuff, all of that. I couldn’t care less, which is probably a silly attitude to have. To me the act of traveling is just a means to an end, not my life. I like to travel, but I often find myself at odds with what is causing me to travel so much — the work I do. I have a horrible wanderlustian itch that this job allows me to scratch and still have a stable home and creative life; I just wish the travel was geared toward more fun. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in an airport and heard a flight announced that I so much wanted to be getting on instead of the one I was scheduled to. Or been on a highway somewhere on a beautiful day, and just wanted to keep on going when my exit came up. But that isn’t Clooney’s character in this movie at all.

This is a theme of the movie, and also an element that ties the film to the animated movie I started with, Up. Besides its musings on relationships, Up in the Air is a story about how we spend our lives. What we hold important. Where we put our energy. What we put in, as Clooney says, “our backpack.” Clooney’s character flies around the country to go into companies to fire employees on behalf of their (chickenshit) employers. The scenes of people crumbling as they are let go — the hopelessness and despair — are heartbreaking, especially in light of recent events in my own community. It is a reminder of how much we wrap our identity around our jobs, and when that job is taken from us, we are bereft.

People do not like their jobs fucked with. They don’t like to be told how they should do something they’ve been doing for a long time, they don’t like routines changed, and they don’t have a lot of respect for management types coming in and outlining a new process. I’ve been in scores of companies over the years, and the distrust and disrespect between management and the work force is, far more often than not, astounding. And often I’m the guy who is seen as the instrument of change, and I’m probably not looked on too favorably. Which is why I do everything I can to not look like one of those management types, believe me. So I could relate to the whole notion of what was going on in this movie, especially after having survived the aftermath of one employer tanking, and going in and out of many places either in the midst of downsizing or preparing to — doing more with less, as it’s called. It’s not a fun place to visit.

When it comes to our jobs, we stand to lose so much, and we have ceded so much power to others — The fuckin’ Man — to royally screw us for a laundry list of lame reasons. Almost all of us are in that boat, and really it’s our own fault because we buy into ideas that our culture wants us to. Too many of us allow ourselves to become the old man in Up, simply because we settle in, mortgage ourselves to an income, set things aside for later, and ultimately risk having our worlds turned upside down with so much left undone. There is a scene in the movie between Clooney’s character and actor J.K. Simmons that really sums the whole shebang up. Another one he is with a man about to get married, who can only see a future of giving in. It can be quite disheartening, and often feels totally overwhelming.

We all know people, or are those people ourselves, who somehow screw the pooch and make bad decisions to mess our lives up, financially or otherwise, based on our own greed or narcissism. Given the past year of top-level meltdown, it should be clear to even the thickest that that trait runs all the way to the top of the financial and (supposed) intellectual food chain. The problem is that our entire system is set up to take care of those fuckers, while we pay the price, even for mistakes we didn’t make. The real mistake is in putting ourselves in position to be so royally hosed. Putting ourselves in position to tie ourselves to choices and things that we are expected to, rather than those we choose for ourselves that are not part of the dictated plan.

I don’t want to talk about the movie too much; this isn’t a review, and I didn’t want to turn it into a rant either (though it appears it’s too late on that account). It’s more just a musing about my own circumstances, and those of people I know who have similar ideas, and what we are going to do about them. A wake-up call, I guess, to at least think about it. It kind of started with getting the car stolen, and how thankful I am that it isn’t some $25K ride that I’m still making big payments on, especially considering that lately I’ve been thinking about getting in the middle of just one of those situations.

If you feel like you need a reminder, or wake-up call, of your own, I think you could do worse than going to see this movie. It beats the hell out of getting your car stolen.

2 thoughts on “>Up, Up in the Air”

  1. >Great post!One's spouse being diagnosed with cancer is a great wake up call too. I don't recommend it though.2009 started with his diagnosis and by the end of the year he was in remission. It's treatable not curable. It has brought us closer together in a way I'm not sure much else could. Now I'm trying to understand how to believe in life again…to not live in the fear. During a ritual in the summer I got a divination/affirmation of which part of it said "…as I begin to believe in life." I've been trying to do just that…I know no try just do. :-)Thanks for sharing. As the band Talk Talk says…Life's what you make it…Let's make it a good one!

  2. >Joanne, I'm sorry to hear about your husband. Hopefully his cancer STAYS in remission for a long, long time. Thanks for the comment, and best to you and yours in '10!

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