Movie Season 2009: What is the message?

One of our family’s favorite holiday traditions is to hit the multiplex and take in as many of the first run movies as we can. This year has been no exception. From Princesses and Frogs (with five grandkids how can you miss that one?) to Sherlock Holmes, there is enough film fare to interest almost any movie goer. 

With still a week to go in the season of film feasts, what is the message that has resonated most? Relationships, it’s all about relationships. Yes princesses can kiss frogs and find their true love and the world’s most wily detective needs the assurance that his ever-present Watson will not leave him for a woman. Indeed, “it’s complicated” when a prime of life woman tests her mettle with an ill-advised fling with her ex-husband who is seemingly frozen in adolescence. 

But perhaps to this point the flick that has caused me the most pause is “Up in the Air”. This George Clooney big screen vehicle was purportedly written with “world’s most gorgeous man” in mind. 

The movie highlights the contemporary fixation on absolute autonomy and tests the premise that the ideal life is one free from the baggage of all that ties us down, including those pesky relationships that hinder our journey to self fulfillment. In Clooney’s case, his role called for religious pursuit of his 10 million mile frequent flyer status with American Airlines. Only six before had accomplished such a feat (fewer than the number of people who had “walked on the moon”). 

In his role as the consummate corporate hatchet man, Clooney racked up the miles flying from his home in Omaha across the nation and around the world terminating people on behalf of the bosses who couldn’t do it themselves.  He notes that being on the road for 322 days a year leaves him with the distasteful consequence of being at home for the other 43 days. 

The master traveler, Clooney’s character can spot the quickest airport security line (the one with Asian travelers because they travel far more than others and have learned the value of slip-on shoes). He loves the priority status that comes from being an elite traveler with reserved lines at the airport counters, the rental car and hotel reservation stations. In fact, his loyalty to vendors of travel services was the one thing he expected to be rewarded in life. 

In contrast, it seemed to create little concern for him that countless employees were terminated with his quick wit despite their long years of service to “the company”. His family was a stranger to him and his sisters barely knew him. 

The relationship tensions reach a peak when a freshly minted college graduate successfully convinces his company that virtual terminations over the internet can serve more customers at less cost of travel and much greater profits in a time of peak demand for the services of CTC (Corporate Termination Consultants). He argued that only the experienced face-to-face expert “terminator” could do the job of facilitating transitions of employees “engineered” out of their positions at less risk and greater success. 

In the meantime, his long forestalled love interest began to flourish exactly as he approaches his long coveted 10 million mile status. Alas, the elite lifetime executive platinum status proved empty without a relationship reason to enjoy it. His female companion proved exactly as she represented herself: uncommitted. Ironically, his sisters leaned on him to intervene to save a wedding from evaporating due to a future groom’s lack of commitment attack. Aloneness came to rest in ways he had ignored until all else proved empty of its promise. 

Relationships are the essence of human existence and all our efforts to minimize, control or eliminate their hurtful effects prove illusory.  We cannot be inoculated from the disease of loneliness. 

In the end, the way in which we nurture, protect and endure the relationships that matter will be the mark of the life well lived. Improving our skills in this arena may be the best time we can spend.  Everything else is “up in the air”. 


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