THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is the movie I longed for all year without even knowing it. It may be my favorite movie of 2013, not because of the high drama, indie chic, nail-biting tension, or classic one-liners, but for unraveling that tight knot inside my heart that I’d been carrying so long I no longer noticed its existence. Directed by Ben Stiller and based on a short story by James Thurber, the movie tells the story of Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), an average guy doing a more than average job at Life Magazine, sadly on the verge of putting out its last issue. Downsizing sucks, but that’s not Walter’s real problem. His real problem is all those unrealized dreams that have been poking at him for years, adamant and demanding as they push to the surface, forcing him into a mini coma of a daydream. Walter’s boss, Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), a know-it-all nothing of a man laughs at him, not behind his back, but square in the face when this occurs. Walter cares, but beyond daydreams of smashing Ted’s face in, does nothing. It’s not that Walter’s a loser. He’s any one of us who caught a bad break and once there, couldn’t make his way to a good one.
Walter’s bad break happened at 17 when his father died, forcing the former mohawk-wearing Walter had to stash his dreams to become the Man of the House for his mom and sister. Years later, in his job as a “negative assets manager” Walter’s put out some of the greatest magazine covers the world has seen, thanks to the work of colleague and photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), without ever leaving the dark room. O’Connell sends Walter what he calls possibly the best picture he’s ever taken for the final cover of Life as a gesture of their long productive working years together, along with a wallet engraved with Life’s motto: “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.” Walter is touched, but at a loss since the best picture ever, negative #25, is missing upon arrival.
When Walter’s mother, Edna (Shirley MacLaine) moves, and Walter’s sister, Odessa (Kathryn Hahn) finds Walter’s long-forgotten backpack along with a new travel journal, a long-lost present from Walter’s father, something infinitesimal shakes loose in Walter and he sets out in search of O’Connell to find what was lost — ostensibly negative #25, but we all know what Walter’s really looking for. O’Connell proves a tough guy to find; he shoots photos of snow leopards in the Himalayas and straps himself to the tops of biplanes to get the volcano shot, all heady stuff for the risk averse Walter. Thankfully, Walter is spurred in sideways fashion by co-worker and possible love interest, Cheryl Melhoff (Kristin Wiig), who gives Walter lift just being in the same room as he. Soon, Walter is traversing some of the world’s most satisfyingly brilliant places while Life’s motto is displayed in snippets across the backdrop. When Walter does find O’Connell, it’s worth the wait. “Beautiful things don’t seek attention,” O’Connell says as he watches the snow leopard.
In today’s world of reality T.V. and endless soundbites where everyone jockeys for attention, I need to believe O’Connell. See this movie if you feel stuck. See this movie if you have been toying with the idea of stepping outside preconceived notions of yourself. See this movie if you want the world as your backdrop to expanding horizons, or if you just want to revel in the wonder of an ordinary person doing extraordinary things even if no one sees him doing them. See this movie.