Favorite Fictional Characters, #243: Ryan Bingham
Sitting here at Logan Airport, waiting to fly back out west, I'm reminded of 2009's Up in the Air and lead character Ryan Bingham. Professional business traveler, Bingham fires people for a living and preaches the scripture of detachment, asking "What's in your backpack?" to encourage other executives to avoid a life burdened with unneeded entanglements.
George Clooney turns in a stellar performance as Bingham, giving him a dense ennui guarded by a thin veneer of satisfaction with his lonely, inhuman existence. A jolt to his well-cultivated routine is provided by Natalie (Anna Kendrick) a fresh young understudy who threatens both Bingham's career with her fire-by-video concept and her skepticism with his lifestyle. The cracks begin to show in Bingham's armor, and the film's most soul-aching point comes when he reaches his ten million miles and is celebrated on he plane. When the pilot asks where he's from, Bingham is only able to respond, "here".
It's a story that examines our modern lives of isolation and exploitation, and how it damages our capacity for intimacy and commitment. It's also a story that questions the value of lives devoted to empty corporate drudgery and absent meaningful relationships with one another.