There are lots of movies on my List of Shame. If it was released before the ‘60s, there’s a solid chance I haven’t seen it. But that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in it! So you can come here to read about my first experience with movies I feel like I should have probably watched by now. And this isn’t limited to older classics. If it’s a movie I’m interested in, but just happened to miss, Playing Catch-Up is the series where you can find my thoughts on it!
I remember reading the short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” in my high school and then when the movie of the same name came out in 2013. I never got around to seeing the movie, mostly because it got middling reviews at best. But eight years later, if the premise of one of these movies seems like something I might like, then I tend to fall on the positive side of it (Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood and Richard Curtis’ About Time are perfect examples of this). So I decided to give The Secret Life of Walter Mitty a try.
Now, this movie isn’t perfect. I don’t find myself itching to go back and watch it again and I don’t really have the urge to recommend it to a friend. But at the same time, I was inspired by the film. Every time a movie is at the very least competent and has themes about following your dreams or going out and experiencing the beauty and awe of life, it gets me thinking about my own life. As I’ve slowly drifted away from religion, I’ve been finding different ways to experience the joy and beauty of everyday life other than religious texts or teachings. This also puts me on a search for meaning in a whole new way and like everyone, I can struggle to find it.
But every time I come across an earnest and genuine movie about finding life and love in others, art, or just in the little things that we don’t always notice, I come out of it inspired and ready to take on the world. Or as I put it in my new Letterboxd list, I find myself wanting to immediately pack my bags and travel the world with the people closest to me. And this is exactly what Walter Mitty did for me.
The film is about the titular Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller, who also directed the film), a negative assets manager for Life magazine during the company’s last days. He likes his job and is good at it, but because he was forced to grow up early when his dad died, he doesn’t spend time traveling or doing anything out of the ordinary. At least, not in his waking life. Walter spends much of his time daydreaming about the cool things he would do if only he were willing to take risks or grab life by the horns, as it were. Since the person he would like to be is only visible in his daydreams, he never gives himself the chance to be that person in real life. That is, until one of the photographers for Life, Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) sends the reel containing the final cover image for the magazine. Only, negative 25, the one which was supposed to be on the cover, is missing. So Walter takes off on a journey to find the notoriously hard to reach Sean to locate the negative before he loses his job.
Walter being put into this desperate situation is what causes him to finally leave his comfort zone and do something. Previously, the most notable achievement he could think to put on his dating profile was that he’d been to Arizona. But now, he finds himself spontaneously taking a trip to Greenland, jumping out of a helicopter over shark infested waters, outrunning an erupting volcano, long boarding down a mountain, climbing the Himalayas, and much more. He’s finally experiencing life and finding the beauty in places he never would have even thought to look before his new adventurous side showed itself.
These parts of the film are what caused me to have any kind of positive reaction to it at the end, though I don’t know if it was in the conventional way. In Into the Wild, which is on the aforementioned Letterboxd list, I’m captivated by the movie from beginning to end every time I watch it. It’s only afterwards that I begin thinking, what if I try to go live life to the fullest the way Chris McCandless did? In Walter Mitty, I was thinking about changing my own life while I was still watching the film. i’m not sure if this is a positive or negative effect of the movie, because while it struggled to keep my attention at times, it still fostered deep thought and a drive to be creative and enjoy life.
As I’ve already alluded to, the movie has its faults. The pacing doesn’t always work because some scenes drag on after their main point has been made and had me antsy to move on to the next scene. And while some characters, particularly Walter, are human and relatable, others just seem like caricatures, which could take me out of the feeling of the film overall. This is very much a movie that will either have you completely buy into what it’s doing emotionally or not. If you find it too sentimental or shallow, then its other issues are going to glaringly stand out to you. But if you’re into the meaning it’s attempting, then you’ll be more willing to brush aside the nitpicks here and there. I fell into the latter category and was able to enjoy the movie overall because of it. Now, I’m going to stop daydreaming and head outside…