Christian Ethics and the Movies
Up in the Air (2009)
Reviewed by David A. Thomas, Prof. of Rhetoric, Emeritus, University of Richmond[i] “We Appreciate Your Loyalty”—American Airlines Slogan. Up in the Air is a profound tone poem on misplaced loyalties in the corporate world, and in marriage and grown-up sexual relationships as well. Disguised as a kind of midlife romantic comedy, starring one of America’s busiest, coolest, suavest, and cleverest leading men, George Clooney, Up in the Air neatly slices open the corrosion of the whole concept of loyalty as the term is used today. To mix a metaphor, the title of this story is about flying, but we are all surrounded by sharks. The Story. Ryan Bingham is employed by an outsourcing company that sends him around the country as the hired “termination specialist” who fires people for big corporations during this period of widespread layoffs. He is good at what he does: he can “take people at their most vulnerable, and set them adrift,” preferring not to follow up on them afterwards because “nothing good can come of that.” He is fanatically loyal to American Airlines, whose motto stands as the epigraph above. He has amassed millions of frequent flyer miles in his job, looking forward to an almost impossible goal, a “number I have in mind but have not reached yet.” The basic conflict arises when his employer makes a move towards grounding him, by streamlining the firing process through a teleconferencing innovation to be headed up by a fresh young Cornell University wunderkind straight out of grad school. In other words, he is about to be axed himself. Pointing out the legal pitfalls in firing loyal employees by impersonal call center contacts, Bingham manages to goad his boss into sending the young whippersnapper on the road with him to learn what the job actually consists of before she attempts to radically transform the process. Plot Conflicts. Ryan Bingham lives an airborne nomad’s...
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