Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty [2013]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars) (2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (B. Kenigsberg) review

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty [2013], directed by Ben Stiller who also stars in the film's title role, screen story and screenplay by Steve Conrad, based on the short story by James Thurber [IMDb] which had been made previously into a 1947 film by the same name [IMDb] starring Danny Kaye [IMDb] is about a mild-mannered, hen-pecked middle-aged man named Walter Mitty.

In the current version of the film, Walter Mitty (played, as mentioned above, in the current film by Ben Stiller) had been working so very, very quietly for the past 16 years for Life Magazine, buried in its photographic publishing department.  This seemed like a "perfect job" for someone like Walter, who though having had apparently a very normal and even rambunctious childhood (he skateboarded, even sported at "Mohawk haircut" as a tween) had retreated into himself after the sudden death of his father when he was in his late teens/college age.  Instead of going on a summer trip to Europe (his father's last gift to him had even been a "travel diary" for said trip) immediately after his father's death, Walter chose to put his dreams aside, finished school, took a job delivering Papa John's pizzas (to help pay for said school...)  and then took the job in the dark-rooms / photo-archives of Life Magazine (some symbolism, don't ya think ;-)

Well, this "Life-choice" would have worked ... 'cept: (1) his previous dreams would not go away.  In fact, throughout his adult life, he'd periodically "zone-out" entering into a fantasy world where he'd imagine himself doing all kinds of heroic deeds that he was too mild-mannered (in reality terrified) to do in real-Life, and (2) as we all well know, no job is particular secure these days.  Near the beginning of the film, he along with the rest of the staff at Life's New York HQ are informed that the magazine had been bought and was destined to be converted from "Life" to "Life Online" (some other symbolism here as well ...) with a fair amount of employees expected to downsized in the process.

Now does the nice, loveable if ever cautious "squirrel" (think chipmunk, prairie dog or otherwise ground squirrel) like Walter Mitty who's spent his entire adult life buried in the still pre-digital photoarchives of "Life Magazine" stand a chance in face of the downsizer's axe in the person of Ted Hendrick's (played by Adam Scott) brought-in by the new "higher-ups" to determine who "Lives" and who "Dies" in Life's new realities?  Of course not. 

Yet, Walter Mitty does have his friends/allies, including a high-flying photographer named Sean O'Connell (played by Sean Penn) who, though he's rarely actually passed through "Life's HQ" there in New York, instead prefering to "live Life on the edge" and sending in his photo-dispatches from (and picking up his checks at)  random locations around the world, had long expressed his admiration and gratitude for Walter Mitty's ability to convert his photographs into iconic images on Life Magazine's pages.

And so it is, Walter Mitty's dark-room / photoarchival office receives a final role of photos from said high-flying, "Eagle-eyed," legendary photographer Sean O'Connell, who writes insisting that "Frame 25" be the cover of the last print edition of "Life."  'Cept ... "Frame 25" seems to be missing in the role that Walter Mitty's received ... and fearing the loss of his job as a result, he spends the rest of the movie looking for it.

Trying to find legendary "Life" photographer Sean O'Connell in order to try to find out what happened to "Frame 25" on that last roll sends sends mild-mannered "ground squirrel" Walter Mitty _finally_ on the adventure of his Life.

There have been reviewers who've asked why the film "needed" a nearly $100 million budget including location shoots in Greenland, Iceland and the Himalayas?  It's a fair enough question BUT exaggerated perhaps as the current story was, I do see a clear point to it: We do need to live in a way that at least _some_ of our dreams do come true or else those dreams will haunt us and besides _no one_ can assure us that the security that exists for us today will exist tomorrow.  

In this light, I've long thought that the "Burning Bush in the Desert" that Moses finds in Exodus 3 was also Symbolic unfulfilled Dreams/Projects of (in that case, Moses') Youth.  In Moses' youth, he had come to see the injustices that the Egyptians (with whom he had grown up) had inflicted on the Hebrew slaves.  In his youth, he reacted to those injustices rashly and thus had to flee into the Desert as a result.  But calmly, patiently (we DON'T KNOW how long that "bush" was burning out there in the Desert) God called him back "to finish the job."

In any case, dreams can not be left completely unfulfilled ... or else one comes to live, like Walter did for a good part of his life, "buried at work" as if he had already died.

So good job folks, good job! 

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