Up in the Air


Up in the Air

Written by 
Based on "Up in the Air" by Walter Kirn

Director Jason Reitman
George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick

Category    Ceasing Employment,Social Media& Technology      


Paramount Pictures



Language English
109 min

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A 2009 film directed by Jason Reitman about Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), who specialises in downsizing corporations and is hired by employers to give the bad news to their terminated employees. Ryan is living out of a suitcase, travelling all around America to do this job. He combines this with a career as a motivational speaker, using the theme “What’s in your backpack” to show the analogy of better to travel light with a life devoid of excess baggage. During one of his many trips he meets Alex (Vera Farmiga), a fellow frequent flyer, and begins a casual relationship with her, meeting whenever their travel itineraries can match.

Ryan loves to travel and not being behind a desk. So he is annoyed when he is suddenly called back in the office to find out that a new recruit, freshly graduated Natalie (Anna Kendrick), has convinced their boss (Jason Bateman) to lay off people via videoconference to reduce costs. Just as companies across America are going through massive redundancy waves to cut costs, Ryan’s company wants to lower expenses by reducing its reliance on people. However, Ryan shows everyone, using role playing, that Natalie is inexperienced in giving people the bad news, proving that she would be even less effective using videoconferencing to do it. So his boss decides that Ryan and Natalie should travel together to announce the next round of redundancies to the affected people.

During the trip one of the women that Ryan and Natalie give the bad news to, warns them that she’ll kill herself. In addition as the days go by, the two colleagues have a chance to get to know each other.

In the mean time Natalie meets Alex and tells Ryan that he is compatible to Alex and should commit to her. Ryan, affected by Natalie’s speech asks Alex to accompany him to his sister’s wedding. While there the groom gets cold feet and it’s Ryan who although does not believe in commitment himself, using his motivational skills, convinces the groom to go through the wedding because “everyone needs a co-pilot” to share the important things in life. Ryan starts questioning his own beliefs and impulsively goes to find Alex at her home but finds out that she’s married with children and that he was only an escape to her.

In the meantime, back at the company where the videoconferencing programme starts, during a test run, Natalie is unable to comfort a redundant employee who starts crying in front of the camera. Also, the woman who had warned of killing herself commits suicide which forces Natalie to quit her job once she hears. As a result, the company puts the remote layoff-programme on hold due to government concerns and Ryan is sent “back on the road” just as he has begun to question his own life theory of removing people from his life, just like companies are reducing staff.

Although the film’s main theme is the realisation that as in life it’s better to not fly solo, there are a few HR secondary themes emerging. Mainly that firing people is not an easy thing and it requires a “human touch”, and also quite importantly, that technology is useful in making our work more productive, but some tools and processes cannot replace people, the human resources.

Contributed by: Kiki Kallis