James Thurber’s classic short story about an ordinary man who escapes reality by daydreaming of romance, heroism and adventure, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, has been made into a modern day masterpiece.
Directed by and starring Ben Stiller as Walter Mitty, this film is a cinematic getaway for all audiences. While known primarily for his goofy comedies, Stiller has recently taken to more meaningful plotlines—and with this one, he has succeeded.
The Walter Mitty of Thurber’s short story fantasizes about fighting in war, piloting a Navy hydroplane, performing a one-of-a-kind surgery and being tried for murder, all while out shopping with his wife. The stories are never finished, as he is routinely awakened from his daydreaming state by life’s distractions.
The entire thirteen-paragraph short story, written in 1939, can be read in less than five minutes, which begs the question of how it could be adapted into a two-hour long movie. Rather than use the same storyline Thurber originally wrote, the script for the movie takes an entirely new approach.
Stiller’s Walter Mitty is an ordinary worker for Life Magazine, a photojournalism magazine published from 1936 to 2007 and partnered with Time Magazine at the formerly-known “Time & Life Building” in Manhattan. Mitty’s lack of courage deters him from asking out the new lady upstairs, standing up for himself or advancing within a company he has worked at for decades.
When Life Magazine is bought out and the employees are rudely informed that they will most likely lose their jobs as the company disintegrates, Mitty is tasked with finding famous photographer Sean O’Connell’s, played by Sean Penn, most recent, amazing photo to be the magazine’s last cover.
Mitty embarks on a journey which confronts his body, psyche and heart with challenges he only imagined. From cowardice to bravery, Mitty transforms while on this mysterious journey through foreign countries and danger—testing just how far he is willing to go.
The incredible cast, combined with a perfectly fit soundtrack and artsy style of filming, creates a moving and emotional film. However, Stiller clearly inserted moments of comic relief and light-hearted scenes, rounding the production out to include romance, comedy, action, adventure, fantasy and drama.
The filming style and graphic design of scenes as simple as the beginning credits add to the effectiveness of portraying this sense of “real life,” and stepping out of one’s comfort zone to see the world. This mirrors Walter Mitty’s main theme, turning his fantasy experiences into reality.
In accordance with Life Magazine’s motto, “To see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to, to draw closer, to see and be amazed,” Mitty steps out into the unknown, teaching us to explore, to see new things and achieve your wildest dreams—that is living.
Our Take: 5/5