How Much Did They Pay You To Give Up?
So Carly and I watched Up In The Air for the first time the other night – I can definitely see why it got so much Oscar attention.
The title is sort of a double entendre. Not only does Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) spend 320 days a year “up in the air,” flying from place to place for work, but his job is to put other people’s lives “up in the air.”
He is a “transition specialist” – companies pay him to notify their employees that their jobs are no longer available. In other words, he fires people for a living. His role in life is to deliver some of the worst news anyone can receive in this economy, and preventing a scene by offering a faint glimmer of hope. In his words:
“Our job is to make limbo tolerable – to ferry wounded souls across the river of dread and humiliation and self-doubt to the point at which hope’s bright shore is dimly visible, and then to stop the boat, shove them in the water, and make them swim while we row back to the palace of their banishment to present the employers with our bills.”
The story ends up being a sort of midrash (a sort of creative commentary on a narrative) on TS Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men‘ combined with Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman‘ – probably not intentionally, but those where the two things that kept running through my mind while watching it. And that’s a compliment.
But what really rocked me from Up In The Air was a line that Bingham asks JK Simmons (of Law and Order and Juno and a lot of other great character roles). Simmons’ character, Bob, is having the typical response to being fired, but Ryan does research on the people he’s about to encounter, so he’s more able to predict their response. The scene(slightly edited) goes like this:
Ryan: You know why kids love athletes?
Bob: Because they date lingerie models.
Ryan: No, that’s why we love athletes. Kids love them because they follow their dreams.
Bob: Yeah, well I can’t dunk.
Ryan: But you can cook.
Bob: What are you talking about?
Ryan: Your resume says you minored in French Culinary Arts. Most students work the frier at KFC. You bussed tables at Il Picatorre to support yourself. Then you got out of college and started working here. How much did they pay you to give up on your dreams?
Bob, flatly: Twenty-seven thousand a year.
Ryan: At what point were you going to stop and go back to what made you happy?
Those bold questions will make you re-evaluate where you are right now. For real.