Reitman Responds to Up in the Air Cancer Subplot Concerns
by Alex Billington
January 4, 2010
Earlier today, an article on Jeffrey Wells' Hollywood Elsewhere titled "Bingham vs. Cancer?" started making its way around the web. A reader wrote in speculating that writer/director Jason Reitman had removed a subplot in his film Up in the Air that was about cancer, spinning off of an early scene in the film where an airline stewardess mistakenly asks George Clooney if he "wants the can sir" (he actually thinks she's saying "cancer" the first few times). Reitman decided to host a conference call with: Peter Sciretta from SlashFilm, Kris Tapley from In Contention, and myself earlier this afternoon in order to respond properly to this claim.
Jason explained that in the book, "you find out that [Ryan Bingham's] character is dying of terminal disease and that he’s going to the Mayo clinic." But he never wanted to include that and he never shot a scene that suggested the character was dying. So what was that "can sir" scene about? Jason says that came out of a real moment in his life where he overheard that actually happen to someone on a plane. And he included it because it was a "cute nod" to those who have read the book and it speaks to the way Ryan Bingham travels because it's kind of like a "disease" that he has - being addicted to traveling and his obsession with flying.
I'm not sure why this was even a big concern to begin with, but you can read The Playlist for a look at why this was potentially a problem (I'm sure it relates to the removal of the cancer subplot in Kyle Newman's Fanboys, which was butchered by the studio). I think it's mainly just bloggers and moviegoers picking up on subtexts that don't exist and writing about them in hopes of demeaning the filmmaker. Thankfully it doesn't sound like there is any issue here and I don't think we have to be concerned about Jason's version of the film not being what he wanted it to be. Oh and go see Up in the Air if you haven't, it's playing everywhere now!