Thursday, April 3, 2014

Movie Review #14: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was the third movie I watched on my flight east over the Pacific. It was directed by and starred Ben Stiller, which doesn't say as much as I thought it would before I watched it.

Short review: I really liked it. The vibe was like a combination of The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Stranger Than Fiction, leaning more toward the latter.


Walter Mitty is a long-time employee of LIFE whose job is to maintain the negatives of the photos used in the magazine. He's a lonely, anonymous sort of person who spends a lot of time daydreaming.

When LIFE gets bought out and begins to transition to an online-only publication, Walter can't find the negative of the photo the company wants to use for the cover of the final issue of LIFE magazine. Convinced that he didn't lose the negative, Walter sets out to find the traveling, hard-to-contact photographer who submitted the photo. With his job and way of life on the line, Walter must break out of his shell in order to track down a man who intentionally stays off the grid.


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is about accomplishments.

A running theme throughout the movie is Walter's profile on an online dating site. When a glitch prevents him from being about to "poke" a woman he's interested in, Walter gets on the phone with the site's customer service to sort it out.

Thus begins an ongoing conversation with a customer service guy about things Walter can put on his profile to make him seem interesting. When asked about things he's done or places he's been, Walter can't think of anything. And so, the customer service guy keeps calling Walter back periodically throughout the movie (incredibly unrealistic, but it was funny so I rolled with it) to try to drag information from Walter to improve his profile.

Once Walter leaves to find the photographer, that conversation takes a turn as Walter keeps finding himself in one extreme situation after another across the world. He describes these events in a pretty matter-of-fact manner, more out of an explanation of why he can't talk for long than out of any interest in improving his image.

The customer service guy plays an important role of being legitimately impressed by Walter's activities which, in turn, leads to Walter gaining confidence in himself. By the time he finally finds the photographer, Walter cancels his account and stops daydreaming.

In the end, though, after all his adventures, it turned out that Walter had been impressive all along. By being a reliable employee at LIFE, taking pride in his work and taking care of the negatives for 18 years, he was considered by the travel-worn photographer to be one of the people who made LIFE magazine great. The missing negative, the photo which became the cover of the final issue, was one the photographer took of Walter while he worked.

So often we measure our accomplishments by the measuring sticks of others, and we can't see our own value by comparison. I wouldn't say it's not worthwhile to shoot for a lofty goal--those adventures Walter had were not nothing. However, I don't think we should discount the things we've done in the meantime--being someone that people could rely on for 18 years, raising a child to adulthood, maintaining a D&D campaign for months to years at a time. Those are accomplishments.


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty struck a chord with me, and it was pretty fun to watch. I'd recommend it to anybody who could use a bit of inspiration.

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