Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Up in the Air (2009)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Up in the Air (2009)

In Jason Reitman's drama about a corporate hatchet-man with an itinerant, isolated lifestyle and little personal roots, during a time of economic crisis:

  • the opening title credits accompanied with airplane POV views of clouds
  • the many images of satellite or overhead images of various cities throughout the United States
  • the character of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), an aloof, high-flying corporate down-sizer and consultant for an HR company (Career Transition Counseling), introducing himself in voice-over when firing employee Steve (Zach Galifianakis) [Note: In the film, some were actual victims of recent layoffs.]: "Who the f--k am I? Poor Steve has worked here for seven years. He's never had a meeting with me before or passed me in the hall or told me a story in the break room. And that's because I don't work here. I work for another company that lends me out to pussies like Steve's boss who don't have the balls to sack their own employees. And in some cases, for good reason. Because, people do crazy s--t when they get fired"
  • the many scenes of Bingham's swift, highly-organized, systematic almost-choreographed packing of his carry-on suitcase for his cross-country travels, and his equally-efficient passage through the TSA checkpoint - he noted (in voice-over): "All the things you probably hate about traveling - the recycled air, the artificial lighting, the digital juice dispensers, the cheap sushi - are warm reminders that I'm home"
  • the three scenes of Ryan's delivery of motivational lectures on his keynote topic: "What's in Your Backpack?"; in the first iteration, he recommended stuffing all one's materialistic items into a backback - an escapist fantasy ("Imagine for a second that you're carrying a backpack. I want you to feel the straps on your shoulders. You feel them? Now, I want you to pack it with all the stuff you have in your life..."); in the second, he switched to stuffing all of one's personal relations and people: ("Feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake, your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. Do you feel the straps cutting into your shoulders? All those negotiations and arguments and secrets and compromises. You don’t need to carry all that weight. Why don’t you set that bag down? Some animals were meant to carry each other, to live symbiotically for a lifetime. Star-crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not those animals. The slower we move, the faster we die. We are not swans. We’re sharks"); and during his third presentation in Las Vegas, he left the stage when he realized that he no longer believed his own philosophy
  • the many reactions of terminated employees after receiving news that they were let go, no longer needed or employed, or fired - with hurt, bewilderment, anger, incomprehension, frustration, despair and confusion - and even thoughts of suicide
  • in a hotel bar, Bingham's acquaintance and instant bonding with a like-minded 34 year-old soul - Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), a savvy nomadic traveler (his mirror image) always on the road who mutually claimed with Bingham that there were no strings attached; after sharing, comparing and boasting about club membership cards, the two ended up in Ryan's room for a night of screwing (Alex: "I liked how you burritoed me in the sofa cushions...Shame we didn't make it to the closet"); when Ryan suggested: "We gotta do this again" - they compared laptop schedules (side by side) for their next sexual rendezvous; shortly later, Alex told him: "Just think of me as yourself - only with a vagina"
Bingham's Bed-Mate: Alex (Vera Farmiga)
Meeting Alex in a Hotel Bar
Comparing Club
Membership Cards
On Laptops: Planning the Next Rendezvous
  • the home office scene when fast-rising, overly-ambitious, driven and humorless 23 year-old Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) coldly described how the termination process would transition from personal interactions to remote web-cams (known as GloCal video conferencing) to slash expenditures; Bingham was commissioned by his boss Craig Gregory to take Natalie on a typical road-trip of terminations to teach the inexperienced newbie the art of firing someone ("Show her the magic. Take her through the paces")
  • the scene of Bingham's artful "wake-up call" firing of Bob (J.K. Simmons), whose resume revealed Culinary Arts skills; Bingham asked: "How much did they first pay you to give up on your dreams?" and encouraged him to pursue his dreams in his career transition: "And when were you gonna stop and come back and do what makes you happy?... I see guys who work at the same company their entire lives, guys exactly like you. They clock in, they clock out and they never have a moment of happiness. You have an opportunity here, Bob. This is a rebirth. If not for you, do it for your children"
  • the scene of Natalie's lambasting of Ryan's solitary life-style and lack of commitment - what she termed "bulls--t philosophy" - "The isolation? The traveling? Is that supposed to be charming?...It's a cocoon of self-banishment....You have set up a way of life that basically makes it impossible for you to have any kind of human connection. And now, this woman comes along and somehow runs the gauntlet of your ridiculous 'life choice' and comes out on the other end smiling - just so you can call her casual? I need to grow up? You're a twelve year old"
  • the difficult scene of know-it-all Natalie losing her composure when firing an older distraught employee Mr. Samuels (Steve Eastin) via web-cam, although he was in the adjoining room, when she ended the discussion abruptly: "Mr. Samuels, that's all we can discuss now"
  • the scene of Ryan's (with Alex) attendance at his younger sister Julie's (Melanie Lynskey) wintry wedding in up-state Wisconsin, when on the day of the wedding, Ryan encouraged the down-on-his-luck groom Jim Miller (Danny McBride), a bearded real estate developer, who was threatening to back out, that he should go through with the wedding; as the two sat in a Sunday School room in the church with Jim holding The Velveteen Rabbit book, Jim asked: "What's the point?...I mean, what am I starting here?"; Ryan responded with direct honesty: "Jim, I'm not gonna lie. Marriage can be a pain in the ass. And you're kind of right - this all is just stuff that leads to your eventual demise...There's no point...I'm not normally the guy you would want to talk to about stuff like this. Now, if you think about it - your favorite memories, the most important moments in your life? Were you alone?... Life's better with company.... Everybody needs a co-pilot"
  • the sequence of Bingham's impulsive decision to leave his third lecture and fly to Chicago and visit Alex's home - he was shocked at the door when she opened it and he realized that she was married with children - later, she explained on the phone: "Look, I'm sorry I ruined your evening, but, I mean, you could have seriously screwed things up for me. That's, that's my family. That's my real life"; Bingham was stunned: "I thought I was a part of your real life"; she responded: "I thought we signed up for the same thing....I thought our relationship was perfectly clear. You are an escape. You're a break from our normal lives. You're a parenthesis" - he was flabbergasted: "I'm a parenthesis?"
  • the scene of Bingham personally receiving from the American Airlines Chief Pilot Maynard Finch (Sam Elliott) during a flight, a silver card marked "7" - for achieving the milestone of 10 million frequent flyer miles and Lifetime Exec Platinum status - the 7th and youngest ever to achieve the honor; when asked by the Chief Pilot: "So, where you from?", Bingham could only reply: "I'm from here"
  • in the ending, Bingham looked up at the gigantic airlines destination board, and then was sitting alone in his modest Omaha 'hotel room-like' apartment, staring out - with his voice-over: "Tonight, most people will be welcomed home by jumping dogs and squealing kids. Their spouses will ask about their day and tonight they'll sleep. The stars will wheel forth from their daytime hiding places. And one of those lights, slightly brighter than the rest, will be my wingtip, passing over"

Corporate Down-Sizer Ryan Bingham
(George Clooney)

Reaction of Fired Employee Steve

Packing a Carry-On

Motivational Speech: "What's in Your Backpack?"

On the Road with Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick)

Bingham Encouraging Discouraged Bob to Go Back to Culinary Arts as a "Rebirth"

Natalie Lecturing Bingham on His Life's Philosophy

The Firing of Mr. Samuels via Web-Cam

Talking "Cold-Feet" Groom Jim Out of Backing Out

Alex at Her Chicago Home's Door

Alex: "That's my family. That's my real life"

Chief Pilot: "So where you from?" Ryan: "I'm from here"

Destinations Board

Sitting Alone in His Modest Apartment in Omaha


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