The article discusses Jason Reitman's 2009 film Up in the Air as a meditation on “emotional labor” in a moment of economic crisis. Through its depiction of protagonist Ryan Bingham's profession — he is a corporate downsizer hired by companies to fire their employees for them — Up in the Air highlights the conditions of alienated emotional labor even as it suggests that Bingham is profoundly unalienated by this labor. In the latter half of the film, Up in the Air attempts to counter Bingham's gleeful avoidance of authentic emotional connection by posing an alternative set of values oriented around the family. Yet Reitman's use of actual unemployed people to articulate these family values partakes in a filming practice that forces these workers to perform a kind of emotional labor that the film itself identifies as exploitative and alienating.

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