Last night I watched UP IN THE AIR.
Finally. Before I went to see the film, I read a few pages from the script (including the end scene) and I truly loved what I read.
The film, however, didn’t pay off on my expectation in some ways.
Personally I really love the ending but I can see clearly why people are having a problem with it.
One point I would like to make: I hated the music. The understated indie rock songs worked beautifully for Juno, here they felt so totally and utterly out of place. This could have been a truly grand film but it would have needed a grand score. I found this a major judgment error by the director.
Before I say why I think the ending doesn’t work for some people, you need to know I’ve only seen the film once and I’m usually not very good at making a reliable analysis without a second viewing. I just forget things while I’m enjoying the movie.
Structurally, there’s nothing wrong with Up In The Air, except that it doesn’t have a climax.
Well, actually, if you want to reach a really large audience: this is a really big problem. The film performed well, with over $80m domestic and about the same outside the US. That’s not bad but I believe it could have easily doubled that with a more satisfying ending.
I’d like to look at the mythological angle of the film.
In Hero’s Journey terms, there is no Resurrection.
Before the Mid Point, Ryan is trying to change the world – or at least the thinking of some people at this company. At the MP he realises he has to change himself. That’s when he goes out of his way to see Alex, then his sister.
When he convinces his future inlaw to make the step, he’s ‘doing the right thing’. It is his Inner Approach to the Inmost Cave. Ryan going to Alex’ place is his Outer Approach. The revelation that Alex is married is a clear and powerful Ordeal.
At this point, he has to be able to let go of everything and everyone he’s built his life upon (his backpack is now set on fire).
A functional Hero’s Journey then shows how the Hero applies his newly found knowledge and strength to his new life.
Yes, we understand he has broken through his isolation but we want to SEE it, and his environment needs to see it, too. That’s the whole point of the Hero’s Resurrection: the community understanding that the hero has finally transformed.
In this film it is really so subtle it feels unresolved.