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3 minutes
June 14, 2016

The Throughlines of Up in the Air

The critical acclaim for this film rests in the sound narrative structure of its four Throughlines.

Complete stories break down into four easily identifiable Throughlines. These Throughlines correspond with the four different ways we can look at conflict:

  • the Main Character Throughline is the I perspective
  • the Influence Character Throughline is the You perspective
  • the Relationship Story Throughline is the We perspective
  • the Overall Story Throughline is the They perspective

Match those up with the four different kinds of conflict we can look at:

  • a Situation or fixed external problem
  • a Activity or shifting external problem
  • a Fixed Attitude or fixed internal problem
  • a Way of Thinking of shifting internal problem

And you have yourself the potential for a great story.

Up in the Air is one of those great stories. Written by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, this study of one man’s attempt to shove everything he has into a simple, easily transportable backpack makes for a wonderful Throughline Tuesday study.

The Throughlines of *Up in the Air*

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) has a point-of-view that he wants to share with the world and because he represents the Main Character Throughline of the story, we share that perspective with him. Traveling from city to city to deliver his motivational speeches, he reveals his problematic Fixed Attitude. Ryan finds joy in freeing one’s life of troublesome burdens: essentially, living life with a free mind.

In the Overall Story Throughline we see employees from around the country dealing with the psychological fall out of being “let go.” This attempt by Ryan and the people he works with to manipulate, or shift the Way of Thinking, for these hapless souls exposes the source of conflict for everyone.

But Ryan doesn’t take this task on alone. The Influence Character Throughline gives us Natalie Keener, a young upstart eager to make the process of laying off people easier for those who have to do it, suggests a point-of-view that doesn’t even involve the person doing the firing to be present in the same room. This atrocious Situation appalls Ryan and hits him right where it counts in regards to his whole backpack methodology. Isn’t he essentially doing the same thing Natalie suggests in his own personal life?

Annoyed with her approach, Ryan takes her under his wing and the two develop a mentor/mentee relationship within the Relationship Story Throughline. The difficulties involved in teaching the fresh-faced new hire how to speak to people faced with the crushing emotional reality of being jobless speak to conflict generated by Activity.

Up in the Air received critical acclaim when it was released. The presence of all four Throughlines and the soundness of the story had much to do with that praise.

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