up in the air

January 30, 2010

     A few years ago, I noticed several films that I saw either in theaters or on dvd in which a man with a wife, family, good job, and beautiful home destroys everything because he simply isn’t satisfied and decides to also have an affair or to commit adultery just once.  Two clear examples everyone might know would be Fatal Attraction and A Simple Plan, but I know there are several more.  With Up in the Air, women have now received a chance to exhibit the same characteristic, though I’m sure I’m not correct in citing this as the first example.

     I just saw the film last night, and I’m sorry I can’t recall the name of the actress with whom George Cloony’s character has the affair.  But after meeting him in a hotel lounge, telling him about her sexual exploits (including in an airplane during an afternoon regional flight), they proceed to his room where they have sex at least twice that night, and then agree to keep meeting in various cities whenever their paths cross.  Since he’s alone and always traveling, he assumes she is too.  But he eventually learns his mistake.  The difference here is that the portrait of the woman is much narrower than that of any men who fulfill this role.  The woman here seems to be completely fun-loving and unbothered by her behavior.  We are never given any suggestion of why she feels a need to behave this way, lying, cheating, and living a secret life, one that could destroy her husband and family.  Therefore, despite the fact that we have a portrayal of an independent professional woman, who also could be a “good” wife and mother, the depiction seems quite narrow.  The fact that her behavior indicates some kind of problem:  feelings of inadequacy, unfulfillment, compulsive and addictiveness, isn’t suggested.  The myth that such behavior can be that of a happy and carefree individual is allowed to continue instead.  Perhaps it’s the fantasy of writer, director Jason Reitman.  The idea that a beautful, smart, professional married woman might still want to get it on with whatever man she can, that she’s still “available” seems more of a male fantasy than a feminist representation to me.

    The film is still somewhat compelling in its presentation of current American life with hundreds losing their jobs, families falling apart, or simply facades for deeply problematic behavior.  Clooney’s character also seems supremely self-confident and happy with his lack of a permanent home (too much so) until half way through the film.  But even then, his inability to let anyone close to him, his failure to have a true relationship with his sisters, and his job helping employers screw their employees never bothers him much.  These aren’t so much the qualities of someone who needs therapy, apparently, as of someone who just needs to find the right person to have a lot of sex with.  And then, he shouldn’t have made the mistake of caring for her because everything was going well until he did. 

     This film is receiving a lot of acclaim, and maybe others have a different reading of it.  Please share one if you do.


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