Title: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
Director: Ben Stiller
Cast: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott
There’s a couple of films out there that are about the blue collar worker, the quintessential “little guy” who makes the wheels of societies mechanisms turn. The guy often times treated like crap but without whom the big old company wouldn’t be able to run. That’s the kind of movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is, it’s the story of Walter Mitty, a guy who works deep within the bowls of LIFE magazine. The big guys at the top of the corporate ladder can’t even remember his name, but without him; they wouldn’t get that cool picture on the cover. Problem is that Walter is afraid of living life; he’s the kind of guy who drifts away into daydreams about what he’d like to do with his life, but never really makes them come true.
I’ve always admired Ben Stiller both as an actor and as a director. Of course, just like any other actor or director, he’s been known to commit a cinematic sin or two but Stiller has demonstrated on more than one occasion that he is a mighty talented guy behind the cameras as well as in front of them. Take for example Tropic Thunder (2008); one of the few comedies to truly make me laugh, which is a hard feat on its own. I call films like Tropic Thunder super comedies because these are films that are populated by real comedians and there’s nothing better than getting a bunch of really funny people together to make a movie. Films like these are usually nonstop funny; which to me was the case with Tropic Thunder. Another example of Stiller’s fine abilities as a director is The Cable Guy (1996), a dark comedy with some depth to it; I mean, behind all of Jim Carrey’s shenanigans lies an interesting social commentary about a whole generation raised in front of the television set. And speaking of depth and comedy, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has a little bit of both of these elements as well; the film doesn’t just make you laugh, it also comments about life, or lack thereof.
You see, though Mitty has a cool job; he’s afraid to have a relationship, he’s afraid to talk to women, he’s afraid of everything. Worst part is he knows it. He knows his life could be more exciting, he knows he could do more with it. One fine day Mitty and his co-workers are notified that LIFE magazine is closing down and that a lot of them are going to be fired. In a strange twist of irony, they still have to work hard to produce the last issue of the magazine! Thankfully, Sean O’Connell, the greatest photographer to ever walk the face of the earth (played by Sean Penn) is donating one of his best pictures ever to be used as the final cover; problem is that the picture is nowhere to be found! And nobody can get a hold of Sean O’Connell! And they need that picture for the cover! So Walter, feeling like his life is just passing him by, suddenly decides to takes it upon himself to have an adventure! So off he goes, in his search for Sean O’Connell and the picture for the final cover of LIFE! Will Walter Mitty learn to live his life along the way?
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty focuses on the struggles of the blue collar worker, a theme that’s been touched upon many times in previous films. I mean, we could go as far back as Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936), a film in which we see Chaplin’s Tramp battling his employers who want to turn him into just another piece of machinery, working like a robot, in fact, in Chaplin’s genius, he concocted a scene in which he actually becomes a part of the gears of the machines! In doing so he not only created one of the most iconic images in cinematic history, he also made a great visual allegory to man’s struggle with industrialization. Mitty is not without its allegorical images, in fact, since Mitty spends most of his time zoning out into dream world, the film overflows with them. In one fantastic scene we see Walter battling his boss as they both surf through a concrete jungle!
Another film that we can compare The Secret Life of Walter Mitty to is one of my personal favorite films ever: Joe Versus the Volcano (1990). On that film Joe is the worker who hates his soul sucking job. He’s fallen in a rut. But when they tell him he only has a few months to live, he decides to partake on an adventure that teaches him that life is all about taking risks; same as in Mitty. Actually, strangely enough, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty also features a volcano eruption! Could it be a strange coincidence or could it be Stiller showing his influences? If we want to compare even further, there’s Strange than Fiction (2006), in which Will Farrell has fallen on the dreadful “every day is the same” routine, not having any time in his life even for love. All these films I’ve mentioned have something in common, they are all about people who are disenchanted with life, they all deal with characters that are bored and have forgotten how beautiful life can really be if we just change things a little bit, if we choose to take risks, if we decide to make things interesting. The idea of doing something you are terribly afraid of is always present. In the case of Joe, he was terrified of jumping in the volcano. In Mitty it’s jumping onto a moving helicopter! It’s that age old idea of taking the leap and going for the unexpected! The idea of not living by the rules, of not feeling safe, of daring to take that leap into the unknown. In the end The Secret Life of Walter Mitty ended up being one of my favorites of the year, a very pleasant surprise. Not only does it have depth, but since it stars the often times hilarious Ben Stiller, well, it also has the benefit of being funny. I found myself laughing out loud on many occasions. So we’re talking about a funny and uplifting film here. It’s one of those movies that will make you want to go on an adventure, take that trip you’ve always wanted to take or tell that person how you really feel about them. I found it so fitting that Walter Mitty works at “Life” magazine, because the film attempts to define the meaning of life for us; I ended up loving what The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was trying to tell us: “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.” Just beautiful.
Rating: 5 out of 5