A Serious Man Up In the Air

March 3, 2010

Audrey flipped through the current issue of Travel & Arts Northwest in the small waiting room at the quick lube. The hard plastic seats always reminded her of the chem building lecture hall. The large board on this wall asked customers to change their fluids instead of analyze them.

She glanced up as a middle-aged man came in. He was an average-looking guy, not dressed for the office. He went directly to the coffee vacuum thermos and pumped himself a cup.

“Best coffee on the block,” he said. “Nice and hot.”

Audrey smiled. She avoided anything served in a garage.

“Oil change?” he asked.

Odd question, she thought. “Yes.”

The man nodded. “You have to be careful at these places. I know a guy whose engine froze ‘cause they didn’t tighten everything up and the oil leaked out. Another guy, he lost his transmission on I-5 ‘bout five miles south of Salem.”

A Serious Man (Focus Features)

“I guess we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t,” Audrey said.

“Pretty much.”

The attendant opened the door. “Pullet?”

“Good luck,” the man said.

Audrey watched him walk away, out of the building toward the street. Her car was the only one in the mechanic’s bay.

“Ma’am?”

Audrey tucked the magazine in her bag and paid with her Visa card, the one with double miles.

A Serious Man Up In the Air

by Audrey Pullet

Start the Jefferson Airplane soundtrack. The next two movies on my Best Pic Hit List suffer a common ailment: fear of flying.

In A Serious Man we meet Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a math teacher. Once upon a time, Larry’s family was cursed, and the curse has been passed down through the generations like a precious heirloom. Indeed, Larry has his problems, and this wouldn’t be a Joel and Ethan Coen movie if it didn’t get a lot worse for him. Funny thing is, Larry remains an observer because he doesn’t like change. And, evidently, change doesn’t like him.

Now consider Up In the Air, Jason Reitman’s homage to frequent flyer miles. Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a professional downsizer, a guy who flies all over tarnation to fire people whose bosses can’t do themselves. “Our job is to make limbo tolerable,” Ryan says. Like Larry Gopniik, he doesn’t like change, doesn’t engage and doesn’t realize he’s the one in limbo. He’s scared of flying, all right.

Just for fun, I put Larry and Ryan in the same room. Here’s what they said:

RYAN

Today is your last day here.

LARRY

What have I done! I haven’t done anything. What have I done!

RYAN

This is not a time to look for blame. Your position simply no longer exists.

LARRY

(not listening)

We haven’t done anything! And—and I’m probably about to get tenure!

RYAN

I want you to take the next week to explore this strategy packet.

LARRY

What does that mean?

RYAN

Fill out the skill set work sheet… use the hopes and dreams diagram… and the tree of aspirations.

LARRY

A what? What are you talking about?

RYAN

The answers are all in there.

Will A Serious Man win? Only if Academy voters relate to Larry Gopnik, because the story has all the energy of a pretzel snack bag.

Will Up In the Air win? Only if Academy voters engage with Ryan Bingham, because they only packed for the week-end.

©2010 Pam Wells

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2 thoughts on “A Serious Man Up In the Air

  1. This was wonderful! The final dialogue between the characters cracked me up! This was great reading for my lunch break. Thanks

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