Monday, March 8, 2010

Up in the Air

Did you all enjoy the Oscars? Despite getting SO BORED at the end (Can anyone sit still for that long) I was thrilled with the results, the gowns, the winners. I love Sandra Bullock, and have since While You Were Sleeping, circa my childhood. Love, love, love. And I liked that she made jokes in her speech and ended by thanking Meryl Streep, her lover. Oh, the world needs more Sandra Bullocks, and it needs more people who appreciate the Sandra Bullocks.

Anyway. My favorite movie of the year was Up in the Air. Hands down. I didn't have high expectations for it to win anything, and I don't think it did, but I LOVED this movie. I saw it twice in the theaters and think about it often. It struck and cord in me-- a humanity cord, I think.

Up in the Air is a story about the human condition. It is about what we need in order to be happy, to be alive and content and functioning. I remember hearing a statistic once about dolphins-- that if we were to make a checklist of what it means to be human, then tested it against other species, that dolphins would beat out babies.

According to this study, dolphins are tool users, they are highly creative (perhaps even artistic), they enjoy recreational and social activities, from surfing to sex, and they have proven time and time again that they are self-aware. They’ve also formed symbiotic relationships with fisherman, and recent reports suggest that dolphins even have names for each other.

On this same accord, if you tested George Clooney's character, Ryan, against a standard of human living, he may drop on the list below dolphins. Yes, he is cognitive, and a tool user; he likes recreational activities and has a name; but he lacks the basic instincts that most of us go our entire lives seeking-- Home. Family. Relationships. Marriage. Comfort. Material things.

The film succeeds in playing Ryan's character against two other super-humans. Natalie, the driven, confident, naive young girl with a checklist in place of a relationship, and Alex, the love-interest-without-strings. First off, I will say that I was SO GLAD that the script didn't turn to a romantic relationship between Ryan and Natalie. Didn't you all get worried about that in the trailer? It was simply a work relationship turned friendship in which both parties were changed as a result. It was a halting in the lives of two people who are always moving forward.

Natalie's character is one of my favorite ever written. Anna Kendrick nailed it, with each forceful stroke of the keyboard and each forced syllable in her sensible suit and sensible shoes and sensible haircut. Her character let us move deeper into a sort of Wonderland, initiated by Ryan's character in his shiny shoes and standardlized cufflinks.

I'll tell you the other reason that we all went to see this film (in addition to that deep voice and dreamy jawline... love me some Clooney...) It was the same reason we all saw Avatar, and will see Tim Burton's Alice sometime this week. This film was another WORLD. One in which we all pass through quickly, in transit, hurriedly, sure, but also one in which we haven't ever stopped to consider it as an actual structure and universe.

The click of the roller bag handles, the beep of the security lines, the zip of the hotel key-- there was something sensual and romantic about a world so standardized and sterile. Natalie's little skirt suits and simple necklace created for us a character SO SIMPLE that she was actually considered outside of normalcy. The articulation of ever syllable made her untouchable and awe inspiring from her very first presentation.

Ryan and Alex (ironic names, right girls?) began a relationship that from its onset didn't temp us with magic. It was about sex and convenience and fun. No expectations, no feelings, no stopping. It was the wedding in Wisconsin-- that lovely little montage at his old high school, in the snow, on the dance floor-- that made our hearts swell, that made us yearn for it to work. Yet at the same time, it wasn't something that we could see lasting, either. The loophole was that Ryan and Alex didn't have lists like Natalie did. Their lives were already started, moving, flying. A relationship wasn't on the horizon. (Please excuse my airplane metaphors, its just so easy!)

The beauty of this film's 'unhappy' ending is that we didn't find Ryan's character as flawed. It wasn't a story about breaking someone down, forcing them to love, to stop, to settle. The ending showed us his real emotion and heartache. He is human, after all. But being human doesn't exist in two-and-a-half baths and fireplaces and Christmas dinners and white picket fences. Ryan taught us that living exists without rules.

Up in the Air is a film that I will own. One that I will pull out on a Saturday morning and overanalyze with my coffee and buttered toast time and time again. It didn't depress me, not even a little bit. (I heard a lot of people say it was depressing?) Instead, it cleared an understanding in my mind for second chances, for starting over, and above all else-- what it means to keep moving forward.

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