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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Up in the Air

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

Though a polished comic drama, "Up in the Air" (Paramount) also is an abortive conversion story with a morally ambivalent conclusion.

As soon as we're introduced to emotionally isolated, yet strangely contented, single businessman Ryan Bingham (a predictably deft George Clooney), we know he's ripe for change.

Ryan spends most of his life in chain hotels and airports as he travels from city to city firing employees on behalf of downsizing corporate clients. He also gives seminars in which he uses a backpack to symbolize the weighty burden, not only of material possessions, but of family and social connections as well.

But Ryan's rootless ways are threatened by his tech-savvy new colleague Natalie (Anna Kendrick), who wants their company to save expenses by terminating workers via the Internet, thus grounding Ryan permanently at the Tulsa, Okla., home office.

As Ryan takes Natalie on the road to demonstrate the futility of her scheme, he also reveals the combination of calm ruthlessness and insightful compassion that make him a master of his unusual craft. (Poignant scenes involving the distressed reactions of those being informed that their positions are "no longer available" were filmed using real workers recently laid off in Detroit and St. Louis.)

Another potential tear in Ryan's cocoon is achieved when his relationship with fellow executive wanderer Alex (Vera Farmiga), begun as a casual bedroom romp, gradually turns into something deeper. An invitation to his sister's wedding, meanwhile, also has Ryan reconsidering the value of family life.

Director and co-writer (with Sheldon Turner) Jason Reitman's screen version of Walter Kirn's novel is initially engaging and adroitly acted throughout. But the script winks at commitment-free encounters, while what appear at first to be the life-altering events of the plot turn out to be mere incidents with, the narrative suggests, little spiritual impact.

The film contains off-screen adulterous and nonmarital sexual activity, brief rear nudity, much sexual talk including lesbianism and masturbation references, a few uses of profanity and much rough and crude language. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

******
John Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


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Augustine of Hippo: A Christian at 33, a priest at 36, a bishop at 41: Many people are familiar with the biographical sketch of Augustine of Hippo, sinner turned saint. But really to get to know the man is a rewarding experience. 
<p>There quickly surfaces the intensity with which he lived his life, whether his path led away from or toward God. The tears of his mother (August 27), the instructions of Ambrose (December 7) and, most of all, God himself speaking to him in the Scriptures redirected Augustine’s love of life to a life of love. </p><p>Having been so deeply immersed in creature-pride of life in his early days and having drunk deeply of its bitter dregs, it is not surprising that Augustine should have turned, with a holy fierceness, against the many demon-thrusts rampant in his day. His times were truly decadent—politically, socially, morally. He was both feared and loved, like the Master. The perennial criticism leveled against him: a fundamental rigorism. </p><p>In his day, he providentially fulfilled the office of prophet. Like Jeremiah and other greats, he was hard-pressed but could not keep quiet. “I say to myself, I will not mention him,/I will speak in his name no more./But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,/imprisoned in my bones;/I grow weary holding it in,/I cannot endure it” (Jeremiah 20:9).</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, please fill my heart and soul with the confidence that you will always provide what I need, when I need it, and let me be obedient to you.

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