Minimalism in film: Up In The Air

I felt like a watching a movie tonight, and Up In The Air—a George Clooney flick—was in the 'Recently Added' on Netflix. I decided to give it a shot. The film features an aging road warrior, a first class cognoscente on his way to ten million miles in flight.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) has it all figured out. His entire life in a rolling carry-on, he jets from city to city, speaking engagement to speaking engagement. He doesn't need family—he has his flight attendants, his hosts, and concierge. He doesn't need a home—he's right at home in every Hilton on earth.

No car. No corner office. No closet, no need. He sees his one-bedroom apartment only 43 days out of the year, avoiding that "home" at all costs. The jetsetter. The ultimate minimalist. Hear Bingham's monologue:

How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to feel the straps on your shoulders. Feel ’em? Now I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life.
You start with the little things. The things on shelves and in drawers, the knick-knacks, the collectibles. Feel the weight as that adds up. Then you start adding larger stuff, clothes, table-top appliances, lamps, linens, your TV.
The backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. And you go bigger. Your couch, bed, your kitchen table. Stuff it all in there. Your car, get it in there. Your home, whether it’s a studio apartment or a two bedroom house. I want you to stuff it all into that backpack.
Now try to walk. It’s kind of hard, isn’t it? This is what we do to ourselves on a daily basis. We weigh ourselves down until we can’t even move. And make no mistake, moving is living.
Now, I’m gonna set that backpack on fire. What do you want to take out of it? What do you want to take out of it? Photos? Photos are for people who can’t remember. Drink some ginkgo and let the photos burn. In fact, let everything burn and imagine waking up tomorrow with nothing. It’s kind of exhilarating, isn’t it?
Now, this is gonna be a little difficult, so stay with me. You have a new backpack. Only this time, I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office, and then you move into the people that you trust with your most intimate secrets. Your cousins, your aunts, your uncles, your brothers, your sisters, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend or your girlfriend.
You get them into that backpack. And don’t worry. I’m not gonna ask you to light it on fire. Feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake – your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. Do you feel the straps cutting into your shoulders?
All those negotiations and arguments, and secrets and compromises. You don’t need to carry all that weight. Why don’t you set that bag down? Some animals were meant to carry each other, to live symbiotically for a lifetime – star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not those animals. The slower we move, the faster we die. We are not swans. We’re sharks.

You can guess how the movie ends. SPOILER ALERT: Clooney's character discovers he truly needs love, he truly needs family and friends. He takes a journey you can't measure in miles. He returns a changed man. He's got a newfound admiration of his older sister, an optimism for his younger sister's new marriage, and a desire to put down roots of his own.

By the end of the movie, Bingham is seen cultivating an unlikely friendship and giving a gift he'd have never surrendered before—his precious frequent flyer miles. I won't give the whole movie away, there's a twist that makes it so worth watching. This is one I'm sorry I missed when it debuted in 2009 (I was a freshman in college then).

Mobility is a lifestyle—one I aspire to. Travel. Excitement. Recycled air and cold continental breakfasts, airport bathrooms and in-flight magazines. Exotic places. The feeling of peace that comes in a hotel room—do you get that feeling? When everything's so neat, so packaged, so standard—there's the one desk and the one nightstand and the one bed and the one television…

I love it. So much. There's a hotel I go to some weekends when I'm feeling the need to escape. It's in Nashville. It has a bar on the roof. I go and I pretend to be someone else for a night, sleep in and then drive home. In a way, I see myself in Clooney's character.

Simplicity is wonderful. The movie never downplayed the wonder of an exile lifestyle—life on the road. But to do it with someone you love? with a friend? or to have a home to return to after all those miles?—that's the whole point. Life is best lived in community.

You can still neatly pack a bag. You don't have to own more than a weeks' worth of clothing. But find someone to love and hold on tight. Take them with you or return to them eagerly. Love, love, love.

Love first. Love always. Love without question. Love without reserve. Love when it's hard. Love on the road: Let love send you away, let love bring you home. TheMinimalists say, "Love people and use things, because the opposite never works."