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Running Head: UP IN THE AIR                                                                                                                                    1

Up in the Air



Up in the Air


Efficiency and scientific progress lead to more profit and material gain. The concept called rationalization was given by famous sociologist Max Weber. He was of the view that the process of systemization will increase the profits but will also manipulate the human emotions. The advent of technology and scientific progress leading to extreme bureaucratization can create an invisible prison for the people. The prison was named Iron Cage. The destruction of old cultural relationships will also push humanity towards moral decline and antisocial norms. These concepts of sociology are discussed in the film “Up in the Air”. The film supports the ideas presented by Weber through his sociology theories.

Summary of the Film

The story revolves around George Clooney who travels throughout the country to lay off people on the behalf of the firms that downsize but do not want to indulge in the hassle of firing the employees. The life of Clooney is disturbed when a new employee in his firm gave a suggestion to fire people through video conferencing. Clooney took the new worker Natalie along to show her the process of firing. The film expressed the inevitable process of organization and systemization through the firm working to fire people. Clooney appears very satisfied with his lifestyle in the beginning of the film but later felt that many of his decisions were wrong. He became a victim of the modern society supporting moral decline.

Components of Social Theories Discussed in the Film

The film discussed the concepts of rationalization and moral decline that accompany the systemization from Max Weber’s social theories. The theory of rationalization aimed to explain the change in the western society from a traditional mystic society to a world based on reason and practicality. Rationalization is a process where the traditional approaches and values are replaced by more systematic and practical thoughts. Weber discussed in his work that most of the societies in the past were controlled by certain traditions and values. With the advancement in technology, the traditions were replaced by rationalization. The process now governs every aspect of life.

He identified that there are advantages and disadvantages of rationalization in every sphere of life. Both advantages and disadvantages of rationalization are depicted by the film in a unique way. The concept of the iron cage or the invisible prison is presented through the central character of the film. The term Iron Cage was coined by Max Weber to identify the invisible prison that restricts the humans in a society marked by increased rationalization based on efficiency, control, and calculation. There are a number of disadvantages of rationalization like loss of individual freedom and expression. The modern systems based on maximizing efficiency have made the humans less sensitive towards each other and society is pushed towards moral decline. (Ritzer, 2001)

Rationalization is also considered a process that is concerned with predictability, efficiency, dehumanization, and calculability. The reduction in traditions led to new practices based on rational thoughts. Rationalization also led to the creation of bureaucracies and capitalism. Max Weber in the twentieth century identified that the global trends favor rationalization and systemization. He identified that in all the aspects of life human beings are trying to achieve some systemization and routinization to improve profits and achieve more fulfillment. He expressed in his famous sociology theories that in the whole process of rationalization each human being has lost his spirit towards humanity. (Ritzer, 2001)

The human beings have become a gear or a part of a big machine. Each of the individual tries to get a bigger role in the whole system. He discussed that charismatic leaders can save humanity from shackles of rationalization but the systemization is inevitable. The culture based on results and materialism crushes the charismatic leaderships over time. The concepts of moral decline and rationalization are expressed in a unique way in the film “Up in the Air” The artistic effort validate the theories of Max Weber. (Ritzer, 2001)

Analysis of the Film based on Weber’s Ideas

The film through the character of George Clooney expresses the role of an individual who has become a cog in the machinery of the modern world. As Weber discussed in his theories that rationalization inherent in the social life will make people less human and they will try to achieve success and become a bigger cog in the social machinery. Clooney is the main character of the film that is given responsibility to travel around the country and fire people. The role can only be given to an individual who is not affected by human suffering. He is only motivated to earn more profit and success for himself and his firm. (Clyman, 2010)

Max Weber identified in his theories that rationalization and systematization are inherent in social life and is inevitable. The process of rationalization will create several benefits for humanity but will also push people towards declining moral values and antisocial attitudes. The increasing drive towards organization cannot be controlled as it can increase profit and efficiency in every field of life. The character of Clooney in the film identifies a perfect Weberian role in the society. The counselor spends his time firing people throughout the country and he is insensitive about their fate. (Reitman, 2009)

Through his job, he supports the system of capitalism and earns a profit for his firm. Weber was of the view that charismatic leaders can only keep the human spirit alive. However, these leaders are often failed by the inherent drive of rationalization supported by cultures of success and materialism. The firm of George Clooney exhibits a perfect example of a system that drives towards rationalization. The process of firing is changed to enhance profits and save the face of millions of corporate firms that downsize but do not want to indulge in the firing process. (Clyman, 2010)

Clooney's firm decided to further rationalize by using video conferencing to fire employees in order to save the cost to travel to various locations. These processes can reduce the human touch. Another character in the film Alex Goran expresses the role of an individual who is insensitive towards human emotions. The happiness of these characters is largely dependent on staying insensitive towards human suffering. While expressing the definition of his work to his assistant he mentioned “We are here to make limbo tolerable, to ferry wounded souls across the river of dread until the point was hope is dimly visible. And then stop the boat, shove them in the water and make them swim.” (Reitman, 2009)

The scene reveals the loss of human touch and sensitivity to the suffering faced by the unemployed people. In addition to that, the process of rationalization is expressed through several important scenes in the film. The scene where Natalie Keener gave the suggestion to use video conferencing to cut costs is a huge example of how the society is becoming more organized and human interaction is reduced. Apart from that on airport Clooney told Natalie that she should not waste time in check in process. He mentioned that he travels 270 days a year and if they will waste 30 minutes in each flight, they will waste a whole week. It expresses the immense desire of the people to rationalize every aspect of their lives to cut cost and enhance profits. (Clyman, 2010)

The film also provides affirmation to the ideas of Max Weber that connect moral decline with systemization. Weber in several theories mentioned that old human ideals brought a collective spirit to the society and strengthened the moral character of the people. The increased shift towards profit and materialism has negatively affected the moral character of the society. The character of Clooney and his wife present the examples of the moral decline. The film reveals that the systematic practices reduce empathy and human touch that make individuals mere cogs in social machinery. (Reitman, 2009)

The character of Clooney himself became the victim of the systematic social order. He became imprisoned in the invisible prison named iron cage by Weber in his theories. The Iron Cage of technology that supports maximized efficiency has imprisoned humans and has pushed them towards immorality. Clooney faced bad consequences not only because of his partner but due to the modern society and its practices.


The film identified some of the major concepts of sociology presented by Max Weber. The process of rationalization and the accompanying moral decline are exhibited through the characters of George Clooney and his wife Alex Goran. The increasing shift towards rational practices reduces the human touch and imprisons the people in an invisible cage. Clooney is a victim of the moral decline caused by systematization and bureaucratization.


Clyman, J. (2010, January 6). Up In The Air: The Anti-Mid Life Crisis. Retrieved from Psychology Today:

Reitman, J. (Director). (2009). Up in the Air [Motion Picture].

Ritzer, G. (2001). Explorations in Social Theory: From Metatheorizing to Rationalization. London: Sage Publication.

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