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Film Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

 

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Directed by Ben Stiller
20th Century Fox 12/13 DVD/VHS Feature Film
PG - some crude comments, language, action violence


Courage is the basic virtue for everyone so long as (we) continue to grow, to move ahead.
— Rollo May

We are used to praising the courage of soldiers and those who perform heroic acts. But bestselling spiritual writer Mark Nepo believes that each of us can bring courage to bear on the challenges and struggles of everyday life. "It is not something we can manipulate, but only live into," he writes. For him, this virtue is "an applied art of spirit."

Angeles Arrien has observed that the word "courage" is derived from the French word for "heart": it means "the ability to stand by one's heart or to stand by one's core."

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is about the transformation of a man as he discovers his courage. He has long been a disappointment to himself and has adopted a pattern of escaping from the present moment through fantasies.


"Most of the shadows of this life are caused by our standing in our own sunshine."
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

This parabolic film is based on a short story written in 1939 for The New Yorker. In the original tale, Mitty is a henpecked husband, and in the 1947 film version starring Danny Kaye he is treated badly by his mother and winds up in the company of a band of smugglers. In both cases, he is a stunted soul prone to daydreaming.

In this film directed by Ben Stiller, the story of Walter Mitty has been updated to the present time and the world of dating services, down-sizing, people losing their jobs, and global travel. The screenplay is by Steve Conrad whose scripts include Will Smith's The Pursuit of Happyness and Gore Verbinski's The Weather Man.


"Being brave does not mean being unafraid. It often means being afraid and doing it anyway."
— Rachel Naomi Remen

The key to this retooled portrait of Walter Mitty is made clear in the opening scene where the protagonist is trying to decide whether or not to hit the Wink button on eHarmony and send a message to a co-worker he secretly adores. He is not passive or weak; he knows what he wants but lacks the drive and the determination to follow through on his yearning to connect with her.


"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."
— Will Rogers

Walter (Ben Stiller) lives in New York City where he has worked for 16 years for Life magazine, the visual chronicler of American culture. He is a photo editor and has one man working for him. It has been the singular privilege of Walter's unexceptional career to handle the works contributed by Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn), a photography superstar who roams the world in search of exotic subjects.

Walter's diligence on the job has kept him afloat but now Life magazine is going digital. Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott) has been hired to manage the transition. Everyone is worried that they will be sacked. This becomes very real to Walter when he learns that a photo sent by Sean O'Connell has been lost. Hendricks wants to use it for the cover of the last printed issue of Life magazine.


"A daydream is an evasion."
— Thomas Merton

Walter's major character flaw that has caused him a great deal of criticism and humiliation is his habit of flying into a fantasy in his head during which he is completely oblivious to those talking to him. Even his mother (Shirley MacLaine) and sister (Kathryn Hahn) are troubled by his daydreaming.


"Don't be afraid to go out on a limb. That's where the fruit is."
— H. Jackson Brown

After finally making contact with Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), he is pleased when she volunteers to help him search for Sean O'Connell and the missing negative. Of course, then he has a number of fantasies about her including one in which he runs into a burning building and rescues her three-legged dog. In another, he vents his spleen on Ted Hendricks in a fight which tears up the city's streets.


"Act boldly and unseen forces will come to your aid."
— Dorothea Brande

Cheryl provides the affirmation and support Walter received from his father who died when he was 17. Now in his quest to track down the magazine's top photographer, he flies to Greenland, Iceland, and Afghanistan. In his mind's eye, his soulmate sings "Space Oddity" by David Bowie — which propels him to take a crucial step in his transformative journey.


"In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit."
— Albert Schweitzer

This sets in motion a series of adventures where he jumps out of a helicopter into the ocean, survives a shark attack, skateboards downhill from one city to another, witnesses a volcano exploding, and scampers up the Himalayas to have a close-encounter with Sean O'Connell, who is trying to spot a white leopard in the wilderness. We can't tell you what happens when these two swap stories but suffice it to say that one of them has done all that is necessary to put his life in turnaround.

Here is the inspirational message of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty:


"Within you right now is the power to do things you never dreamed possible. This power becomes available to you just as soon as you can change your beliefs."
— Maxwell Maltz

Let Walter Mitty's courage put you on a new path of adventure and fulfillment:


"Sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade wind in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover."
— Mark Twain



Special features on the Blu-Ray/DVD include deleted, extended & alternate scenes; The Look of Life; Pre-viz; Music video: "Stay Alive" by José González; Disc 2: DVD Video: Behind-the-scenes of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty; and a stills gallery.


Screened at The 51st New York Film Festival, October 2013.

 

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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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