I love Ben Stiller as a writer-director-actor, but I have a rule about seeing movies with Sean Penn, given his history of wishing critics rectal cancer. When a friend of mine asked me to see ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ I decided to break my own rule, and I’m glad I did. With Mitty, Mr. Stiller has made a film that matters.
“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 magazine
Ben Stiller’s Walter Mitty has worked at LIFE magazine for 16 years in its negative assets department. As the publication prepares to shut down he somehow manages to lose the negative to its final cover, a special image sent in by world-renowned photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn). The photo, said to represent the “quintessence of life,” (or was that quintessence of LIFE?) sends perpetual daydreamer Mitty on a journey of self-discovery that will forever end his ability to settle for less.
The trailers for ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ played up his daydreams, but in truth the movie doesn’t really get going until the character decides to take a leap of faith into the unknown in search of “negative 25.” It is at that point his budding relationship with coworker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) begins to grow and unfold, and the courage and confidence within him finally breaks through to the outside world — particularly in the presence of the suits in charge of reorganizing (i.e., downsizing) LIFE for the digital marketplace.
Anyone who has followed this blog knows that I’m a big advocate of following your heart. For Walter Mitty, his early sadness stemmed from not chasing down his dreams and aspirations. His regret manifested itself in elaborate daydreams. In real life, the “Walter” in all of us makes himself known with bouts of anger, sadness, and depression. Symptoms of “Walter” may include insomnia, irritability, or a short fuse with friends and loved ones. We try to cope with “Walter” with an endless string of vices.
It takes courage to really life life, and it’s harder if an individual didn’t have a support network to help cultivate it growing up. Living life to its fullest requires a willingness to confront all that it has to offer — including failure. Ben Stiller’s direction of ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ isn’t perfect, but the care with which he approached the subject matter more than makes up for a few slightly awkward dream sequences early on in the film.
If you want to see a movie that encourages viewers to ditch the mundane while motivating their inner adventurer to step forward, make some time to watch ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.’