Not many men wake up in the morning and balance their checkbook with a pen, yet still have the imagination of a six-year-old. The world of Walter Mitty is filled with realistic daydreams that keep his boring life from becoming unlivable. He is the “negative assets handler” in the photo department of Life magazine. Although his dreamy world sometimes gets in the way of his everyday life, he is reliable and trustworthy. Well, at least, he has been for the last decade.
Ben Stiller (“Night at the Museum“) directs and stars in”The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” a 2013 comedy adventure film about a chronic daydreamer having to leave his comfortable life to find a missing negative. Throughout his time at Life, he became the only person in the photography department to handle the images from a mysterious world-renowned photographer, Sean O’Connell, played by Sean Penn (Mystic River, Dead Man Walking).
Walter lives his dreamy, almost non-exist life in the basement of Life magazine, taking care of his mom (Shirley MacLaine) and sister, being bullied by coworkers, and ever-so-obviously crushing on his coworker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig). Meanwhile, the globe-trotting photographer Sean sends Walter his images from around the world because he “only trusts him.” They have never met. ”
“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 Mitty
Life prepares to print their final print version of the magazine as they make the switch to a digital platform. Walter and his job are both a “relic of the analog world.” Sean sends Walter his final photograph to put on the final cover of Life: “…the quintessence of life, I think.”
The only problem is, Walter lost it.
Now he must shatter his daily illusions and actually go on an adventure to find Sean (he is a nomad and Life does not even know how to reach him) and, hopefully, the missing negative. We follow him to Iceland, where he outruns a volcano on a skateboard, to Afghanistan, to Greenland and to South Asia where he tracks a snow leopard. It was only filmed in Greenland and Iceland, and the rest was combined with digital effects and landscape footage. It will make you want to book the next flight to Reykjavik (well not at the moment, but soon).
End the end, Walter discovers he had “the quintessence of life..” all along. Both the negative of the last cover photograph and Walter himself. Quintessences means “the essence of a thing in its purest and most concentrated form.” That is Walter: pure, faithful, taking care of everyone else and then himself. He gave me hope the first time I watched it because I am also a daydreamer and kept my highly imaginative world intact even when most people had abandoned theirs.
Interestingly enough, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” received negative reviews. Rotten Tomatoes says it “fails to back up its grand designs with enough substance to anchor the spectacle.” Giving it a 51% critics score and a 71% audience score. The New York Times says the film is a “contradiction” showing an “ordinary” fellow doing things we “ordinary” people cannot do. I disagree.
The question is not about him being ordinary, but we do not think we are extraordinary enough.
Fun Fact: when I first moved to the Upper West Side I was walking across the street and met eyes with Ben Stiller and smiled. So wherever you are Ben I hope you are safe and that I can run into you again soon.