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.


» 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, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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