TEXT: Stanley Ting (SCHOOL ASSIGNMENT)
What is the purpose of life? Is there anything memorable or meaningful about your life? Ben Stiller’s 2013 American adventure film asks.
Directed and produced by and starring Ben Stiller, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty tells the story of a middle-aged bachelor, Walter Mitty. As the Negative Assets Manager at Life Magazine, Mitty is characterized by his daydreams about getaways and his crush on his colleague, Cheryl. His department is on the verge of extinction in the face of digitalization, meaning that he will soon be laid off. More importantly, this implies that old, analogue films are replaced by new, digital megapixels.
The story begins with the ‘negative #25.’ Mitty is responsible for producing prints from negatives and coordinating with photojournalists on assignment. Sean O’Connell, one of the photojournalists, is due to submit the latest negatives, of which the negative #25 captures the ‘quintessence of life’. The frame is chosen as the cover of the Magazine’s final issue, but it is missing for some reasons. Cheryl, together with Corporate Transition Manager, Ted Hendricks, help Mitty sort out clues to Sean’s current location. With the encouragement of Cheryl, Mitty embarks on his adventure from Greenland to the Himalayas, in search of the ‘quintessence of life.’
Walter Mitty is just as ordinary as most people like you and me. We have grand dreams, yet what we do in real life is eat, work, sleep and repeat. Mitty led such a ‘meaningless’ life before leaving for Greenland. In this quest for the meaning of life, he seems to have come to the answer in his journey: ‘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.’
Life is full of happiness and possibilities. Opportunities are out there, but people lack the courage to seize them. This is just like shying away from confessing your affection to someone who you are secretly in love with because you are afraid of failure. However, if you have nothing, what have you to lose? We are confined by walls we build ourselves. The film inspires us that a meaningful life begins at the end of our comfort zone, and the only way to live it is to break the walls around ourselves.
Steve Conrad’s well-written script teaches us a memorable lesson. A negative assets manager, deemed as an ancient and useless thingummy, is influenced by a great photographer. If you think of yourself as a nobody, try to think in someone else’s perspective. YOU MIGHT BE A HERO.
Apart from the memorable story, Ben Stiller also made a right choice to commission Stuart Dryburgh as Cinematographer. The New Zealand photographer captured mesmerizing scenery from Iceland and Afghanistan to give audience pleasure to the eyes.
On another note, the music of the Kirsten Wiig’s cover of ‘Space Oddity’ forms another highlight of the film. The peaceful mix with David Bowie’s original soundtrack brings a new taste to the post-rock classic. Alongside visual content, the song gives everybody chills. ‘Dirty Paw,’ a new song by Icelandic independent band Of Monsters and Men, was dubbed to bring exotic music to your ears.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is an antidote worth watching when you are rudderless in the midst of quarter-life crisis or mid-life crisis. The soul-soothing film can guide you out of confusion and help you pull yourself together. It may not be a grand production by Hollywood standard, but a crash course in life philosophy which everybody should place on watch list!
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