Deuce double-aught nine was an exceptionally good year for films, and lucky for us, several of the films were deeply Travel-oriented. There were three major Oscar-bait’ers from established movie studios in 2009 that deal with philosophies that any traveler, whether life-long or on their first gap year, should be very familiar with.
“We are not swans, we are sharks.”
As we watch the cleverly-constructed title sequence of “Up in the Air,” Jason Reitman’s new film, a montage of shots from “flyover country,” as seen from the tip of an airplane’s wing, are gracefully inserted over the song “This Land is Your Land” by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, until the film moves into it’s opening scenes, which depict the downsizing of a number of real human beings playing themselves.
These people were recently disenfranchised from their real-human-being jobs and are filmed sobbing and openly wondering why they’ve been let-go. For a few moments it seems the film may be the ultimate nihilistic tone-poem of the business class.
Ryan Bingham, as played by George Clooney, is a corporate assassin of sorts, traveling from worst-city to worse-city, to liberate people from their livelihoods. By profession, Bingham is a Corporate Downsizing Expert, an axe-man for employers too spineless to let go of their own employees in these, our aptly “down on the ground” economic times. But as we delve further into Bingham’s Character, we’re offered a chance to study the philosophies that keep him chasing skirts and mileage awards with equal zeal. We see his nihilistic existence laid bare, a disconnected man with only the most tentative ties to his family who feels more at home passing through a TSA checkpoint than with his own flesh & blood.
Anyone who has ever been too preoccupied with “the road” of their travels to send an e-mail home to their girlfriend or call their mom on her birthday should be able to empathize with Bingham’s stranded soul.
The film’s central theme is that to be a truly optimum traveler, an uber-mensch of the departures lounge, requires an almost psychopathic ability to reject acquaintances closer than road-buddies and hook-ups. Despite being a film about a fob nicely settled-into the business class section, it’s subject is one that even the grungiest backpacker should be able to relate to, perhaps even better than the white-collar set that it depicts.
Carl Fredrickson, the old widower and unlikely action-hero of Pixar’s “UP,” has a remarkably similar reaction to his traveling acquaintances, more fanciful, though they may be.
One could mistakenly assume “UP” as a film for children, however, the film sets itself apart quickly in it’s much-talked-about opening sequence which serves as a paramount statement about the dream of travel, tempered by the day-to-day mediocrity of things like flat tires, leaking roofs, and falling in love. The sequence serves to remind us of the importance of staying close to home & hearth, but makes us question how we pursue our dreams and our dream destinations.
Make no mistake, as we watch the montage of home repairs, which is capped-off by quick cuts of Carl’s posh-looking tie collection, I thought of the spending mind set that keeps people from traveling. The sequence’s central metaphor is an old jar that gets used for change that is supposed to be saved-up until it will finance a trip to Paradise Falls, a fictional location inside of Brazil.
The film’s message to travelers doesn't stop there. We see Carl’s trepidation about taking on company for his fantastic method of travel, watch Carl realize that he has to give up on material possessions and the physical manifestations of his old life if he’s going to accomplish his goal.
We even meet a Dark-Mirror of Carl in his childhood Hero, Charles Muntz. Charles has gone so far off of the grid in his pursuit of his of adventure, that he’s lost his ability to even trust or befriend other human-beings.
The recent success and cultural after-effects of James Cameron’s most recent film, “Avatar” has produced some of the most interesting perspectives on travel movies in recent memory. The film uses much of it’s runtime to depict in three dimensions the planet of Pandora, which is mostly covered in a lush, living landscape that’s intended to be as foreign to our earthly eyes as the rainforests of Brazil must be to the eyes of a Tokyo Salary man.
It’s some of the most authentic, and well-researched world-building ever put on display in a film, much less in Three-Dee. While the movie’s script itself doesn’t have much to say beyond it’s “us versus them” theme of indigent homeland defense through superior animal weaponry, the cultural effect of the film’s jungle diorama has made for some peculiar response.
Web sites have already sprung up trying to decode the language of the na’vi, and the language’s author has plenty to say, though not everything thanks to a non-disclosure agreement. Reviews have been written by astronomers and in the most bizarre turn CNN Reports that there is a support group for people who feel let-down that the planet of Pandora does not, in our conceivable reality, exist. “Second Life,” much? Also, it’s funny to imagine CNN (and by “CNN,” I mean Wolf Blitzer) trolling fan-sites. Maybe we’ll get some cool Spock/Anderson Cooper slash-fics soon. Thanks, Wolfie!
It’s easy to scoff, but these message-board-denzines probably just late to their Furry Convention, taking their time to learn a language that, while extremely well-researched and created, is not an actual language in any country or planet that we can actually visit. The same can be said of members of the aforementioned “post-pandora support group”
These people would likely be far better off to save up some cash, dabble in a second language (French/Spanish, NOT KLINGON) and make off for a real rainforest where no one speaks their language. Hell, the United States’ own Appalachian Mountain Range is often as alien-looking as an extra solar planet. And it features a particular mountain-man dialect just as foreign, if not as bark-y and primitive, as the language of the na’vi.
It says much about our modern times, economic and otherwise, that the most distant travel that many of us earthlings may take in 2009 or 2010 may be to the local cinema. That being said, these films offer up surprisingly in-depth statements, reflections and ruminations about not just the present economic situation that prevents many of us from visiting that far-off dream-destination, but also the reflexive hard-realities of the cost, whether it be based on temporal or economical value, of going to a three-dimensional film that lets the viewer enter a living diorama of sorts, versus saving another twenty bucks for that empty jar.
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