Identity and Anxiety in the Film, “Up In the Air”
Make no mistake, moving is living. -Ryan Bingham
“Up in the Air”, directed by Jason Reitman, stars George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham is a full-time corporate down-sizer whose life consists of an endless stream of business travel (“322 days last year”). He moves from place to place, letting people go from corporate roles when their employers cannot stomach doing it. He has no permanent attachments to people, a desolate and hollow single bedroom apartment he never sleeps in, and he has accumulated 10,000,000 airmiles…
Ryan Bingham’s life is in airports and hotel rooms and is filled with constant movement. The stability and security in his life, his secure base, is found precisely in those things that others find impermanent and impersonal. His finely orchestrated and choreographed travel routine, his mechanized method of moving constantly from place to place gives him re-assurance, and in an odd way a sense of belonging. Which is good, because Ryan has no permanent connections to anyone in his life.
Ryan also has a budding career as an motivational speaker. His message: “Make no mistake: your relationships are the heaviest components in your life…. The slower we move, the faster we die.”
Ryan is completely identified with his corporate role. His aircraft-bound life is an appropriate symbol of his existence on a deeper level. In the terms of Jungian psychology, Ryan, like Christopher McCandless, the subject of Into the Wild is a true puer aeternus (“eternal boy”). He floats above life in his social self, and never puts down roots into the deep soil of his genuine self. And he is danger of discovering that his life is tragic because there he has no remaining way to turn back.
In its own way, this is a very disturbing and provocative film, but it’s a very good one. It raises the question for each of us about how connected we’re willing to be to the real substance of our lives.
I’d welcome comments below from readers on anxiety, identity and work.
My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness,
© 2010 Brian Collinson