“Up in the Air” The Job Terminator, with Benefits

Have you ever fired an employee before? No! Good for you, it must have been painful. But what if you have to and you have no heart to do it, can you believe that a movie can help you do it. You can be Ryan Bingham (Clooney) for half an hour or may be Natalie Keener (Kendrick). The movie can give you the strength to be as merciless as them…the two main characters of the movie are:

  • Name: Ryan Bingham.

Age: 40s.

Home: Airport.

Job: Travelling around the country to fire people, describes himself as a Termination Facilitator.

Life goal: To become the seventh person to earn 10 million frequent flyers with American Airlines.

  • Name: Natalie Keener.

Age: 23.

Home: Where her happiness is, or her boyfriend is.

Job: Promoting a plan to cut costs by conducting layoffs via videoconferencing.

Life Goal: To be happy in her personal and career life.


Up in the air (2009) directed by Jason Reitman, It is a film adaptation of the 2001 novel of the same name, written by Walter Kirn. Starring, George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick and Jason Bateman.

George Clooney was nominated best actor for his role in “Up in the air” being Ryan Bingham. Anna Kendrick was also nominated best supporting actress for her role in the movie. The movie has many perspectives. It’s about a man who fires people for a living; it is also about a man who saves miles excessively, only for the sake of saving. In another sense, it’s about a man who meets a woman who’s so similar to him that even though they both believe in the idea of living solo, they begin to fall in love. It is also discussing the life of a man who is married to his work.

The two main characters are Ryan and Natalie; they represent two different life and work visions. On one side Ryan who is assigned to fire people and gives motivational speeches, using the analogy “What’s In Your Backpack?” to extoll the virtues of a life free of burdensome relationships with people as well as things. He doesn’t only want to travel light, he wants to live light, he doesn’t want to get married ever, and he hates family moments; he has sisters who he barely talks to. He is so evolved into his work that he ended up all alone.

Ryan’s life goal is not to have a huge house or a happy family or even a trip around the globe, he wants only to meet the chief pilot, that’s it. He was so satisfied with his life philosophy till Natalie started to question him. He faces a lot of emotional situations through his job, firing people, but he never gets emotional, he never sympathize with any of them, his job is to make the fired employee sees the glass half full, and even this he didn’t accomplish. “Anyone who ever built an empire or changed the world sat where you are right now, and it’s because they sat there that they were able to do it”, a template he says to each employee he fires, saying these words, he is not actually buying what he is selling. Those on Bingham’s receiving end are less than fully persuaded. How, indeed, to make lemonade out of lemons when there are bills to be paid, mortgages to be kept up, mouths to feed? Bingham, conveniently, doesn’t stick around long enough to grapple with the aftermath, having already hopped on a plane to his next destination. It is easily to describe him as a heartless, loner man. His refuge is the skies. What Ryan loves most about his job is living in dead places, like airports and hotels; he never gets attached to anyone. He doesn’t care about the psychological status of the fired employee. People are his last interest, though his work is all about people.

Firing people is not an easy job, firing speech is considered one of the most awkward situation one can face, dozens of reactions are expected, the employees may seem calm, but on one break point, they just jump off a bridge. Depression is the common reaction to job loss. He never thought about giving them the seven basic tips to survive after a losing their career, to avoid; panic, isolation, negative emotions, rigid mindset, “what ifs”, inactivity and going through it all alone. Common reactions to losing a job include feeling shocked, betrayed, confused and humiliated. Loss of a job can be devastating, but Ryan doesn’t care.

There are some rules for firing employees, and that is according to Susan M. Heathfield, Human Resources Expert.  Don’t fire an employee unless you are face to face.  Don’t fire an employee without a warning, and don’t fire an employee without a witness. Don’t Supply Lengthy Rationale and Examples for Why You Are Firing the Employee. Doesn’t Let the Employee Believe That the Decision Is Not Final. Don’t Allow the Employee to Leave With Company Property in His Possession. Don’t Allow the Former Employee to Access His Work Area or Coworkers. Don’t Allow the Employee to Access Information Systems. Don’t End the Meeting on a Low Note. Don’t Fire an Employee without a Checklist in Hand. Ryan barely achieves any of these rules, either he or Natalie.

Middle East lack Ryan’s job, being an emotional society, firing employees is the last thing to be done, HR managers give not only one but ten chances, even if the employee sabotaging the whole firm. Ryan-likes are so needed in such cases, being emotionless, professional, uncaring and being selfish in that situation, may save a lot of companies in Middle East. There are lots of lazy employees taking the place of some energetic ones, who can really help and do their job properly.

On the other side, Natalie, who is very practical in her work, yet very emotional in her personal life, she even brings her own pillow with her through travelling. Dreams of a family of her own, she doesn’t want to die alone. Ironically her boyfriend left her by a text message, the one who prompts for a termination using technology. The irony goes on through the movie, Ryan, the pitiless hates Natalie’s project because it is not emotional, that cold man. The age gap between Ryan and Natalie gave him the right to mock her, but that doesn’t mean he can learn a lot from her, after all she is the only one who questions his life style.

The movie is like a loop it ended pretty much where it began, with Bingham once more staring out into the wide blue yonder and wondering, where do I go from here? “Up in the Air” isn’t a comedy. If it were, it would be hard to laugh. Nor is it a tragedy. It’s an observant look at how a man does a job, not much sufficiently, but may be, professionally, emotionlessly.

By: Abir Yassin