Thursday, August 16 , 2018, 7:54 am | A Few Clouds 64º

 
 
 
 

Cinema in Focus: ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’

3 Stars — Thought-provoking

Ben Stiller's reinterpretation of James Thurber's famous character first published in the New Yorker Magazine in 1939 is a charming look at the ultimate daydreamer. Thurber loosely based the character on his friend, Walter Mithoff, and portrayed him as a quiet married man who would substitute his boring real life for one of adventure.

Stiller, who directed this film, plays Mitty as a dutiful single man working for Life Magazine in New York, longs to have a real relationship with a woman, either online through eHarmony or with a newly hired co-worker, Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig).

Stiller maintains the Mitty character in its purist form, a man who takes little risks in real life, and in fact has no life of consequence that he can recall. Mitty registers on eHarmony and gets almost no response in his quest for a relationship. In a funny interplay, the one call he does get is from a worker at eHarmony wanting to help him fill out his profile so he can get more "hits" on his page, since to date he has received nothing. Mitty has to admit that he doesn't know of anything he can put down as having accomplished in his life.

In this version, Mitty is a "negative assets manager" (photo librarian) working for the historic Life, the iconic photojournalism magazine that chronicled much of the history of the world in the 20th century. Life Magazine is on the skids and is about to publish its last issue. For the last cover, it is going to use a photo submitted by its star photographer and world traveler, Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn), who has sent the photo to Mitty for handling.

Unfortunately, Mitty can't find the photo, and this is causing the new "downsizing manager" for the company a great deal of egotistical grief. In a moment of hallway confrontation, Mitty is fired for mishandling the missing asset. Ironically, Life's motto is: "To see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to ... to see and be amazed." Mitty is the antithesis of this, never having gone anywhere and living mostly in his fantasy life.

Mortified that his beloved job is coming to an end, he decides he is not going to be remembered for having flubbed his final assignment, and he heads off to find O'Connell to get a duplicate copy of the photo. Through the next hour of the film, Mitty travels through Greenland, Iceland and Afghanistan, inadvertently living out the motto of his beloved magazine.

There are some touching sidebar scenes in the movie, including his conversations with his mother, Edna (Shirley MacLaine). The story comes full circle when Mitty finally catches up with photographer O'Connell, who lets him know that the photo he is seeking to find is in the wallet O'Connell sent to his home. What was in actuality in his grasp at home became the cause of his global travels that changed his life.

We won't spoil the end of the story by revealing what the great photo is, but it does characterize the dedication that many people had working for Life Magazine. Mitty, along the way, wasn't transformed by some self-revealing introspection, but rather by the compelling trials and tribulations of real life.

Daydreaming about what we want to be "when we grow up" is something common to all of us. Living real life when we do grow up is a gift, and one that requires faith, imagination and trust. To quote the infamous Auntie Mame: "Life is a banquet, and most poor fools are starving to death!"

Mitty is a good reminder that "adventure" is all around us, and we just need to open our eyes and hearts.

Discussion:

» Recognizing that what he longed to find was in his wallet at home is a reminder that the sweetest things are closest to us. Have you found that to be true, or is the adventure out there?

» Having the courage to find love is more difficult than most realize. How have you found love in your life, and what did you risk to find it?

» It is difficult to imagine a life of no accomplishments, but this tale takes us to the extreme to reveal the truth that life can be so much more than we can imagine. Have you been able to find a meaning in your life?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level
×

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >