Saturday, January 2, 2010

Upping the Anger

I have never seen my wife angrier coming out of a theater.

We had just seen Jason Reitman’s Up In the Air and I had asked her what she thought. Big mistake. She went on about a fifteen minute tirade about how the ending ruined the film for her. Naturally, having written a book about such things, I asked her why that was.

She went on to explain her take on the film, which was that George Clooney’s Ryan Bingham had obviously changed over the course of the story, having gone from man-on-an-island to a reformed cad desirous of a loving and lasting relationship. The problem? As those of you who have seen the film are no doubt aware, Bingham does not “get the girl” and ends up back in first class on an American Airlines flight to some unknown destination. Here’s where the debate begins, I believe.

My wife says (and it’s hard to argue) that at the end of the film, she believes that Bingham has returned to his job of firing people on the road and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The reason this angered her is that she feels that this behavior is inconsistent with his “change”. She felt that the “new” Bingham would never return to his old ways. He may have lost the girl he wanted, but there are plenty of fish in the sea. He could easily find another woman, knowing now what that feeling is like. I have to admit that I interpreted that ending in a different way.

To me, Bingham staring at the departure board just prior to the final shot/voiceover was an indication that he was going to follow the recommendation of his young colleague Natalie (the delightful Anna Kendrick) who said that she would use his astronomical number of frequent flier miles to see the world. She would do exactly what he appeared to be doing and peruse the board and select a random destination. I thought one could just as easily conclude that while Bingham was returning to his “home” on board a plane, he was doing so for an entirely different reason, maybe even using his travels to find a new girl.

My wife disagreed, arguing that Bingham’s boss Craig (Jason Bateman) told him he was returning him to the road and that Bingham didn’t decline the assignment or quit. Furthermore, she pointed out that he was wearing a suit, not a Tommy Bahama shirt, when he was staring at the departure board, letting us know that he was traveling on business. Both are excellent points and difficult to refute. However, I noted that Reitman also chose to include a very specific shot of Bingham letting go of the handle of his trusty carry-on bag as he stared at the board, which told me that he was “letting go” of his old life.

I can’t claim to be the authority on this. Other than Jason Reitman, who can? Perhaps that’s the point. At the very least, the ending is ambiguous. It is most certainly not a happy one, atypical of most romantic comedies, a category to which I don’t assign Up In the Air anyway.

My wife had another complaint, apart from the ending, and it’s one I tend to agree with. She saw the twist with Alex (Vera Farmiga) coming and did not buy it for a second. To her, it was a pure plot device and not in keeping with her character up to that point. She claimed that a woman with a husband and three kids at home might allow herself to have a fling on the road (say what?), but she would never spend the weekend at Bingham’s sister’s wedding and act as if she was falling in love with him, as she most definitely appeared to do. This is hard to argue with when you consider how Alex reacted to Bingham’s surprise visit to Chicago, telling him quite coldly that she thought he “understood” what kind of relationship they were having. When I add up the “facts” facing Bingham just before that happened, I have to admit that I would have drawn the same conclusion as him and would have taken the same action in flying to Chicago to profess my love for her.

In retrospect, that twist seems more of a “trick” to me than a naturally occurring consequence of all that preceded it. That doesn’t mean I didn’t admire it nor that I wouldn’t have written it that way myself. But my wife (as always) makes an excellent point.

Personally, I enjoyed Up In the Air, though not as much as Reitman’s two previous films (Thank You For Smoking and Juno). Not that anyone is asking, but I don’t think it’s deserving of a Best Picture Oscar, though I wouldn’t grab a pitchfork and a torch if it were to win.

If you have a different take (or the same) on the ending and/or the big twist, I’d love to hear from you, just as I would love a couple of hours with Reitman to talk about how he came to decide on both.


Jason Reitman was recently asked about the ending and gave this comment:

"For me, at the end of the movie, he's making a choice about where he wants to go for the rest of his life, and certainly he does have a rest of his life."

Reitman was actually responding to the rumor that Bingham might have cancer at the end, as in the book, though I think it helps clear up the debate as above.

To see the article, click here.


  1. Anxiously awaiting your thoughts on Avatar

  2. Nice to know my husband and I aren't the only ones who had a similar ending debate. He saw the twist of Alex being married coming, as I didn't. The reason I didn't? Because I'm a woman, and no woman would have an affair and not tell her lover she was married with children and clearly define "the rules." Women talk... and talk, and talk. I didn't buy it.

    While I enjoyed the film, it did feel very formulaic to me. However, it was entertaining enough that I forgave it. I love your wife's thought of him being in a bahama shirt while gazing at the board. That one little detail would have said so much.

    Thanks for sharing your debate with us. Maybe I need to go to the movies with your wife! ;)

    By the way, Drew, you should join us at #scriptchat on Twitter some time. We have two chats, Sunday at 3pm EST (mostly Europeans), and Sunday 8pm EST for the Americans. We'd love to have you pop in...

    @jeannevb moderator of #scriptchat

  3. As a movie lover myself, and one who has not seen Up in the Air, I will have to rent it, and then get in on the debate. There are many things to discuss in life, and movies is one of my favorites...

    Drew, thank you for taking the time to write so passionately about film. Once I see this one, I will give you my thoughts.

    Renee Gold

  4. Hi, Drew,
    I wrote this post on poor endings - - citing The Hurt Locker, No country for old men and, you guessed it, Up in the Air. I raised it in discussion on Linkedin and someone alerted me to your book and this site. Imagine my amusement when I found this post.

    I agree with your wife. Where was he going at the end of the film? Who cares? We need to feel an emotional release and we didn't get it. Even those people who liked the ending didn't feel it - they had a cerebral appreciation of an unconventional finale. Their heads liked it rather than their hearts and film to me is all about that thump, thump in your chest.

    I saw the plot twist coming too, while at the same time feeling that it was going to be entirely inconsistent with her previous actions. A married woman who desperately wants to stay that way going to a wedding where people will take pictures - in an era of Facebook?

    I look forward to reading your book and perhaps we will have professional consultations in the future. All the best.