Star-studded Oscar-contender "Up in the Air" showcases not only what is wrong with jobs/the economy in America, but something even more profound: What's wrong with love, sex and marriage in America. If "UIA" is representative, we haven't a clue what it is. How can love be the organizing principle of our lives and relationships if we don't even know what it is? May I suggest reading (slowly--it's the only way one CAN read it) Karol Wojtyla's "Love and Responsibility"? Here's a (non-comprehensive) definition of love gleaned from it: "Love always does what is best for the other." "Up in the Air" does not show us this kind of love. The closest it comes is when hired gun, Ryan Bingham (the versatile, world-weary George Clooney)--who flies around the country firing people for large companies--infuses some dignity and compassion into his work.
Are the filmmakers aware of this parallel (both jobs and love in decline in America)? The film is based on the book by Walter Kirn, so maybe we need to look to the author also for an answer. My sense was that the storytellers DIDN'T have a problem with the ingrained, persistent, promiscuous, casual sex throughout, and were trying to find some redemption, some rebuilding of male/female relationships BASED on these shambles. Although the tone of the movie is light and the acting superb, I left the cinema with a creeping depression that grew and grew. It made me forget all the funny and brilliant parts and just focus on the bleak, arid, exhausted, spent, mechanistic, behavioristic panorama of the sexual revolution. (Yeah, this movie is THAT sad.)
The women in "UIA" are the ones who (true-enough-to-life) seem to push for commitment, but this doesn't mean that they know what love is either (Natalie, Ryan's young uppity upstart protégé has one of those destructive, damaging laundry lists of "requirements" for her future mate). Love is also about playing lots of games. (And knowing/following the "protocol" of those games.) Oh dear. I tell teens: "The surest way to NOT find true love is to start playing games. Even if at first it's just to defend and protect yourself, or because others are playing you." Better to get hurt and stay open to true love than trample on love.
Neither of the two approaches to "love" in "UIA" (the older and wiser "sloppy, lower-your-expectations" approach NOR the younger and rigid "aim high, never settle" approach) come close to true love. They are all "me"-centered and consumeristic, rather than other-centered and personal/interpersonal. Check out SNL's "Me-Harmony":
http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/clips/me-harmony/229060/ (Actually, Ryan's occasional sex partner, Alex (Vera Farmiga), says something very similar to the comedians in the spoof!)
SPOILER ALERT: The wrap-up for the movie is simply that I WILL BE HAPPIER IF I'M NOT ALONE. MY HAPPINESS. ME, ME ME. MARRIAGE AS COMPANIONSHIP. BUT MARRIAGE IS SO MUCH MORE. IF THE ESSENCE OF MARRIAGE IS SIMPLY COMPANIONSHIP, THEN WE CAN HAVE ALL KINDS OF "PAIRINGS" PASSING FOR MARRIAGE.
A new book contends that we as Americans have a built-in conflict of interest when it comes to marriage: We love the idea of marriage, but our society was founded on individualism which we take into our marriages and often treat marriage as a means for our own self-fulfillment, and when we don't get what we want out of marriage, we end it (and are expected and encouraged by those around us to end it): "The Marriage Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today," Andrew J. Cherlin, 2009, Knopf.
It's interesting that there are different interpretations for the "Unity Candle" (used in the marriage ceremony in the film)!
It is sometimes performed to symbolize the joining together of the two families, and their love for the bride and the groom, into one united family that loves the new husband and wife. More often it is to symbolize the union of two individuals, becoming one in commitment. The popular explanation is that the taper candles are lit by representatives from each family to symbolize the love and allegiance that each family has for either the bride or the groom. As the bride and groom use these two flames to light the unity candle, they bring the love of both families together in a united love of the new couple. Generally, the two tapers are left burning and replaced in their holders (because each family's love for their own will continue). However, in some ceremonies they may blow out their individual candles.
When the ceremony is alternatively performed to symbolize simply the joining together of the bride and groom, the tapers may be blown out, to indicate that the two lives have been permanently merged, or they may leave them lit beside the central candle, symbolizing that the now-married partners have not lost their individuality.
I was recently doing an introduction to Theology of the Body for junior high students with some parents in attendance. When I asked them if they thought true love was possible, a few girls enthusiastically squeaked "Yes!" and the rest remained silent. One boy offered: "There's a lot of fighting." I went on to soothe their doubts by saying: "Lovers' quarrels, perhaps?" And "We can't judge a couple's relationship from the outside, true love often looks kind of ordinary, even frumpy." (I have a slide of a happy, frumpy couple in my Powerpoint.) I asked them if they had seen couples of whom they could say: "THAT'S what I want my marriage to be like…." One or two hands went up. I turned to the parents for some back up: "Is it worth it? Would you do it all again?" The ten or so parents in the room sat in torpid silence. "Parents???" A few mumbled "yes" and smiled wistfully. I hurriedly told the students to "keep on looking!"
We have a love and marriage problem in the USA! (Even though we are a people who like to GET married much more than our European counterparts, and multiple times.) I like to stress with students that true love is not something that descends on us from on high, like Cupid's arrow. There isn't necessarily "the one" out there just for me. I tell them that marriage is what you make it, your marriage can be whatever you want it to be—it doesn't just happen. But of course, this presupposes that we know what true love is.
I truly believe we WANT to know what true love is, what marriage really is, and we keep trying different theories and praxis. One is a desperate attempt at trivializing the physical element of a relationship while at the same time being addicted to it (UIA). One big mistake we make in love is to put the physical first when it is actually the last stage in a relationship.
I am more and more and more convinced that Venerable John Paul II's greatest legacy and gift to us is his straightening out of our notions of love. Human love. Romantic love. Life-giving love (life-giving in every way). I have to confess that I am being converted more and more (daily!) in my own understanding and living of self-giving love as I study VJP2G's masterwork "Theology of the Body" in conjunction with his other writings. I still shock myself at my own ignorance of what he calls "education in love." What course of study could be more important?
VJP2G's vision of love is God's vision, the Church's vision, the most ancient vision, the most beautiful vision, AND the most challenging vision—kind of knocks the wind out of you. In a good way.
DO see this movie. There's a lot to it. But have your TOB resources close at hand so you don't despair.
--Some people, on discovering TOB, cry: "Where was this when we needed it??!" TOB is not too late. It's right on time.
--GOOD STUFF ABOUT JOBS AND WHAT PEOPLE REALLY VALUE WHEN THEY LOSE JOBS. REAL PEOPLE WHO LOST JOBS WERE USED IN THE "BOOKEND" INTERVIEWS AT BEGINNING AND END OF FILM.
--When I saw the "happy talk" used at the firings, it made me think of a new book out regarding American eternal optimism (that says it's harming us): "Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America," by Barbara Ehrenreich.
--ANNA KENDRICK ROCKS. I would just like it to go on record that I saw her great potential immediately in "Twilight." You can check my old reviews.
--Everyone uses strong profanity in "Up in the Air," even Ryan's plain, down-home sister in northern Wisconsin. This gives every character the exact same "voice" (bad screenwriting) and feels very forced. (Good screenwriting might have—understandably and realistically—saved the cussing mainly for the newly-fired.)
--Only a hint of poetry: "I FERRY WOUNDED SOULS"—but Ryan was on the right track here! Most of life IS poetry! We need so much more poetry than statistics.
--Much talk of people acting like "grown-ups" and "children," but no one is grown up till we take responsibility.
--"Nice touch"—Everything is self-conscious spin and marketing! Arrrgghh.
--New media is "put on hold" at Ryan's job! Good testing of the spirits, we can go back, we can use media intentionally, humanly, etc.
--We need to save our humanity. Just when we think no one could be more cutthroat than Ryan, the next generation, Natalie, outdoes him in newer, even colder ways. And not only outdoes him, but almost replaces him.
--LOTS of subtle product placement in this movie.
--Great visual of landscapes of empty offices in large glass office buildings. If there's any "objective correlative" (an object that is a symbol for the theme of a whole film) it would be the no-longer needed (stacks of) office chairs.
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