A TALE OF SELF-DISCOVERY
By Carl Kozlowski
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is writer-director Ben Stiller’s take on the classic James Thurber short story of a nearly anonymous office drone and fellow 99-percenter fantasizing his way through life just to make it tolerable.
The story originally released in 1939 and is still one of Thurber’s most popular stories from his career and in American literature. This earlier positive message of the American Dream gave birth to a film of the same name in 1947 which strayed far from the story’s original narrative. Now, over 65 years later after the last film adaptation, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is being retold to a modern audience; one that this generation needs to hear.
Mitty is one of the more fitting Christmas Day releases, telling a powerfully uplifting story that in actuality, almost anyone can enjoy. The movie stars Stiller as the title character, a humble man who works in the basement at the legendary Life magazine in its photo procurement and processing department.
Mitty’s life is hopelessly boring and he constantly drifts into daydreams in which he heroically saves the day amid outlandish adventures, such as leaping off a high subway platform and into a burning apartment across the street to save people and a dog from a fire when in reality he just hears a baby crying while waiting for his morning train. He is also too timid to approach the cute new woman at the magazine (Kristen Wiig).
But when a corporate takeover that will result in mass layoffs is announced and Mitty can’t find a photo that their top photographer (Sean Penn) insists has to be the cover image for the last issue, he has to finally make the leap into taking action and saving the day for real.
That adventure is an amusing one, but more unexpectedly, Stiller has managed to create a true epic film that sends Mitty to Greenland, Iceland and ultimately Afghanistan as he surmounts evermore incredible challenges in his quest to find the photographer and ask where the lost photo might be. Yet when he does learn what it is and where it went, the answers come in a surprisingly intimate and personal scale that leaves viewers with a stirring consideration of where the American dream is going and about life itself.
Mitty is a perfect present for families. Its jaw-dropping adventures—including outracing an explosive volcano—and whimsically funny moments are refreshingly devoid of smut and innuendo, with barely any inappropriate language to be found.
This was a dream project of Stiller’s for more than a decade, but he had to overcome the easy labeling of himself as a mere comedic lightweight in order to take the reins of a story with such worldwide scope. The fact that he pulls it off is impressive and should give hope to the everyman and everywoman viewers to not give up on their own deepest wishes.