Nobody seems to have understood "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"
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06-06-2014, 12:48 AM (This post was last modified: 06-06-2014 06:14 PM by Michael_Tadlock.)
Nobody seems to have understood "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"
WARNING SPOILERS INCOMING (duh)

I just watched Ben Stiller's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and I really enjoyed it. It had a whimsical , glowing fantasy feel where the main protagonist, played by Ben Stiller, navigates through a series of adventures on a path of self discovery. Ben Stiller's character, Walter Mitty, is a meek character prone to drifting off into daydreams. He has two motivations in the movie, one a love interest Cheryl Melnhof, played by Kristen Wig, and another a dick boss handling the merger of the company he works for, Life magazine, played by Adam Scott. When world famous photographer Sean O'Connery, played by Sean Penn, sends in his master work to be the cover of the final printed issues of the magazine, the most important photograph is some how missing from the reel. Walter Mitty goes around the world looking for Sean and his master photograph, only to find out he had the print in his wallet the whole time. In the process he becomes the kind of person he always wanted to be and gets the girl.

The story begins with Walter using the Eharmony dating website, the same website he overheard his love interested had signed on to. He tries to "wink" at her, similar to a poke on facebook, but there is some kind of technical failure and the "wink" doesn't go through. In the next scene Walter is on tech support with a jaunty, and a little more than uncomfortably nosy eharmony guy, "Tod" played by Patton Oswalt. Tod tells Walter that he doesn't know why his "wink" was unprocessed, and urges him to complete the "been there, done that" section of his profile, which Walter had left blank. Walter tells Tod that he hasn't really been any place or done anything worthy of putting in his profile. In the middle of his conversation with Tod, Walter goes into his first fantasy, diving into a building to save his love interests three legged dog (among other things). Throughout the movie, Tod continues to call Walter pestering him about his profile, and as Walter's character progresses and he does more things he eventually tells Tod about his adventures. By the end of the movie, Walter has an impressive "been there, done that section" and is the recipient of hundreds of "winks".

On the surface the movie appears to be nothing but a feel good RomCom, with nothing more to offer than attractive CGI and some gentle laughs. Indeed this is what all the reviews on the internet had to say about the film:

http://www.shmoop.com/walter-mitty/walte...acter.html

However, I think all the critics missed the "Secret Life" portion of Walter Mitty's character. Walter Mitty is prone to day dreams, he drifts in and out of reality several times before going on his grand adventure, and during his adventure he occasionally drifts in and out of reality thinking about his love interest, Cheryl Melhoff. This sets up Ben Stiller's character as an unreliable narrator. The big question of the movie, I believe, and one that seemed lost to the critics, was did Walter's grand and life affirming adventure actually happen or not?.

The movie does a brilliant job of weaving in both believable and fantastic fantasy elements into the second act. Walters adventure begins after he stares into a photograph of Sean O'Connery, and he imagines him beckoning to him in the black and white still. In the next scene, Ben Stiller is running past famous covers of life magazine, with the last one being Walter in a space suit and the heading "The making of a brave man". Walter catches a plane, and as it leaves the tarmac you see the words "Lifes Purpose" painted on the run way. Where these fantasy elements imposed on real life, or they visual cues that Walter is in yet another one of his fantastic daydreams?

Walter has several "is this real life" moments within his adventure. After being rescued from a shark in the icy waters of Greenland, he touches a crew mans face to reassure himself that what had taken place actually happened. This could be Walter coming to terms with living an adventurous reality he had previously only dreamed about, or it could be another reminder to the viewer that all may not be when it seems. Throughout the movie from that point onward, various character mention his proneness to fantasy. The eharmony guy, Tod, calls Walter while he is riding a bike along a Greenland highway on his way to "the volcano" on a tip left behind by Sean O'Connery. He asks him about his "been there, done that" section on his profile, and Walter relays his previous adventures to him. "I jumped out of a helicopter into an oceans and wrestled with shark," he tells Tod. In his response Tod implies that Walter must have been day dreaming. Later Walter's mother, Walter himself, and Tod the Eharmony guy, this time in person, all bring up Walter's day dream again. This begs the question, is all of this actually real?

The movie is loaded with allusions, symbolism, and metaphors. When Walter lands in Greenland he rents a car from a strange man in a booth. "Do you have any cars here" he asks, "yeah, a red one and a blue one" the man say. "I'll take the red one," says Walter. Does this remind anyone else of this familiar scene?





The central plot of the movie is Walter trying to find this mysterious "25th print". The missing negative from the roll, what Sean O'Connery called "his greatest work", and "life quintessence". When Walter finally tracks down Sean, deep in the Himalayas, Sean is trying to snap a photograph of the elusive snow leopard. This dialogue is exchanged between the two characters.

Quote:Sean O'Connell: They call the snow leopard the ghost cat. Never lets itself be seen.
Walter Mitty: Ghost cat.
Sean O'Connell: Beautiful things don't ask for attention.

In the film Walter had never met Sean before, only communicated through him in correspondence. His job was to process the photos that Sean took. In the film Sean is a rugged and adventurous character, traveling all over the world and navigating danger. Walter clearly admires Sean and wishes he could be more like him. Perhaps the snow leopard is a metaphor for Sean himself, whom Ben Stiller's character spends most of the film trying to track down? A man Walter had never met before, and proved exceptionally difficult to find, much like the snow leopard.

When Ben Stiller finally finds Sean he learns that the missing negative had been with him the whole time. It was placed in a flap in his wallet, a gift Sean had given him for his birthday. In the wallet was the life company motto:

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.

Walter learns at the end of the film that the photo was of Walter examining a negative. In a very real sense, Walter had gone around the world looking for this photo, only to realize that he had it the whole time. "Life quintessence", very literally, is himself. The search for the missing print has become a metaphor for his whole adventure, and represents Walter's transformation from a weak and timid character with no story and no life to a strong character with rich experiences.

There were many more elements of the movie to be picked apart and dissected, but the last few seconds of the movie was probably one of the best examples of the central theme of the film. Walter is walking away with his love interest, Cheryl, and the film screen goes black. A bright light, almost as if a person is opening their eyes, fills the screen for a few seconds, then it goes to black again, holds for another second or so, and the credits roll.

In my opinion, the "Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is a subtle cerebral film, that does a great job of exploring its main protagonist and reflecting on the meaning of life. If Walter's adventure was a fantasy then it represents his deepest and most sensitive desires. If its real then its a realization of what Walter always wanted for himself; a grand evolution of what was before a very unremarkable character. By making the plot ambiguous you get to have it both ways; you are left hoping it was real but internally believing that it wasn't. You feel compelled to live your own fantasy and realize your own dreams, because it is what you wanted for Walter. In this way I think the movie pays brilliant homage to the original story, while giving it a more modern and upbeat feel for today's audience. If you haven't seen it I highly recommend it. If you have, please let me know, what did you think of the movie?
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06-06-2014, 01:27 AM
RE: Nobody seems to have understand "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"
(06-06-2014 12:48 AM)Michael_Tadlock Wrote:  ...
you are left hoping it was real but internally believing that it wasn't.
...

Thank you for this review. It was a pleasure to read
(except for the typos so don't let Vosur see it)

I remember seeing an earlier version... Danny Kaye was it? I'm not sure.
Or at least I remember being in the room while my father watched but I was too young to properly understand what was going on.

All I remember vividly was that feeling of hoping it was real but thinking it probably wasn't. The same feeling I had after watching Little Big Man (Dustin Hoffman).

I won't be watching this version even though your review tempts me so to do. I simply find Stiller too irritating.
I recall when it was released over here (in Singapore) and seeing the trailer and thinking "oooh! good!... Oh damn!" as I realised that Stiller had been chosen for the lead...

I was left believing it was real but internally hoping that it wasn't.

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06-06-2014, 03:06 AM
RE: Nobody seems to have understand "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"
The past tense of 'understand' is 'understood'. As in "Nobody seems to have understood..." Rolleyes

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06-06-2014, 03:09 AM
RE: Nobody seems to have understoond "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"
(06-06-2014 03:06 AM)EvolutionKills Wrote:  The past tense of 'understand' is 'understood'. As in "Nobody seems to have understood..." Rolleyes

Thanks. Fixed.
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06-06-2014, 02:21 PM
RE: Nobody seems to have understoond "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"
(06-06-2014 03:09 AM)Michael_Tadlock Wrote:  
(06-06-2014 03:06 AM)EvolutionKills Wrote:  The past tense of 'understand' is 'understood'. As in "Nobody seems to have understood..." Rolleyes

Thanks. Fixed.

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06-06-2014, 03:45 PM
RE: Nobody seems to have understoond "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"
Haven't seen the new movie, but I always liked the story best as an album...




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08-06-2014, 10:30 PM
RE: Nobody seems to have understood "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"
Nice review and breakdown. This film has made it to my favorite movie list, absolutely loved it. I'll have to watch it again keeping your review in mind.

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03-10-2015, 01:31 PM
RE: Nobody seems to have understood "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"
Just rematched this movie for the second time. Although I really enjoyed it. I class it in the feel good genre of films. Not that that is a criticism in any way. As I watch too many 'feel good...'.

The ending was a little hollywood boy gets girl. But apart from that, Ben Stiller does seem to portray Walter's character very well. I do like him in his more character roll playing movies. He adds a sense of 'hey this guy could be me down to earth with a normal job'. But with probably a lot more imagination and courage to jump up and rise to the challenge of dropping everything and just going for it. So still hope for me yet. Made my saturday a little better.
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03-10-2015, 05:08 PM
RE: Nobody seems to have understood "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"
(03-10-2015 01:31 PM)wombatm8 Wrote:  Just rematched this movie for the second time. Although I really enjoyed it. I class it in the feel good genre of films. Not that that is a criticism in any way. As I watch too many 'feel good...'.

The ending was a little hollywood boy gets girl. But apart from that, Ben Stiller does seem to portray Walter's character very well. I do like him in his more character roll playing movies. He adds a sense of 'hey this guy could be me down to earth with a normal job'. But with probably a lot more imagination and courage to jump up and rise to the challenge of dropping everything and just going for it. So still hope for me yet. Made my saturday a little better.

I don't know why but I don't like Ben Stiller. I looooove his father and his mother, Anne Meara, was a very, very funny Irish lady , she passed away this last year, but for some reason I can't stand Ben Stiller. I don't find him funny or interesting and I certainly don't find him attractive in any way. I avoid his movies.

Loved the book though.

Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors.... on Donald J. Trump:

He is deformed, crooked, old, and sere,
Ill-fac’d, worse bodied, shapeless every where;
Vicious, ungentle, foolish, blunt, unkind,
Stigmatical in making, worse in mind.
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03-10-2015, 05:12 PM
RE: Nobody seems to have understood "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"
I liked what I've seen of the old one more.

But It also is a problem of Ben Stiller in some way. He too often plays that type of role and really it gets grating. The only times he really shines as a good lead in a role in my book is when he's been different like in Zoolander or (what i at least liked, Startsky and Hutch)

"Allow there to be a spectrum in all that you see" - Neil Degrasse Tyson
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