In Up in the Air (2009), an Oscars-nominated dramedy, George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a man who flies constantly for his job, laying people off. One of the pivotal early character-building scenes shows Clooney going to an airport and treating it like home. In fact the director Jason Reitman cared about this scene enough to break it down with the New York Times.
It is cinematically well-composed, but the message it sends is strange. Bingham (Clooney) is shown to feel most comfortable and at home in airports, and later we find him smiling at various nameless hotels. What this depiction hides are the real demands of constant travel, such as jet lag and getting sick. If I met this man I’d be quick to ask about the weary side effects of his travels. Similarly I’d ask James Bond how many STDs he has, but that’s a different story. With Clooney’s character Reitman shows us a a simplistic caricature noticeably missing yawns, bags under the eyes or coughs. That demands an exceptional explanation, but none is provided.
I don’t expect Reitman to call back with an answer. Film, especially Hollywood film, is not about creating a full and credible psychological profile of the characters. Nonetheless, don’t let Up in the Air leave your head up in the clouds, where air travel is always fun and easy.