An ending left up in the air

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.

Spoilers ahead

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.

About the Author

Karel FG Segers

Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplayat age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in international acquisition, development and production. He co-wrote Danger Close, the biggest budget Australian film of the decade, and has trained and consulted all over the world, including award-winners and Academy Award nominees. Karel ranks among the most influential people for screenwriting on social media, and speaks a handful of European languages, which he is still trying to find a use for in his present hometown of Sydney, Australia

Comments 3

  1. I don’t know if I even understood wht the ending was? To me he appeared to be alone as he was at the start but he’d lost his enjoyment of it and his grasping for a different life was tharted. It seemed like a tragic ending to me. It sounds like you saw something different?

  2. I saw it as quietly tragic also.
    My wife hated the movie, but I rather enjoyed it.
    Being dissed as a parenthesis! Ouch!

  3. I agree with bryn this was totally a tragic ending you can tell from the very beginning especially when alex is explaining what kind of man she wanted…unfortunately for gorge he wasn’t it lol

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