Lowdown: A redundant employee of a redundant magazine goes on a meaning seeking journey.
It is no secret I love the Stiller family. The father was awesome in Seinfeld, while son Ben has been entertaining me for years. As good as he is, Ben Stiller seems to shine even further when he directs his own movies. Zoolander and Tropic Thunder prove the point; The Secret Life of Walter Mitty takes it even further.
Our hero, Walter Mitty, is working for Life Magazine. As has happened to the real Life magazine about a decade ago, the formerly proud paper based magazine sporting historical photography is shutting down in favour of turning into a web magazine. I don’t know about you, but I have been in organisations going through such changes myself, and it ain’t nice; as the film depicts, the process tends to involve lacklustre management and totally demotivated employees [not at my current employer, though; here, it is almost needless to say, management is superb through and through!]. The times, they are a-changin’, and the previously glorious is no longer so; our movie is saddened but accepts the reality for what it is.
As bad as things are for Life, they are even worse for Walter. There is a chance he might be able to keep his job, as some core crew members are kept to look after the web publication. Alas, Walter firmly belongs in the past: he is the Negative Man, the guy whose job is to sort negatives out. Negatives, remember? Those tiny bits of film that people used to take photos on before the age of digital photography? Well, goes to show what survival chances our friend Walter has.
But Walter does have a chance. The magazine’s top notch photographer (Sean Penn) has sent him the negative of the photo that he claims to be a superstar destined for the last issue’s cover. Alas, our Walter is unable to find this negative!
With some help from friends, unlikely as they are, Walter embarks on a journey across the globe to fetch the missing negative. It will have him swimming with sharks in the arctic, escaping volcanoes in Iceland and trekking the Himalayas. In due course he will find himself and form some identity for himself other than that of Negative Man. In due course he will also demonstrate to us, viewers, that the world is a small place filled with good people – even if they appear weird.
Given that I loved The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, I will go straight ahead to the negative (pun intended). My main and only problem with this film has been that it’s dead obvious: everyone should be able to know right from the very beginning where that elusive negative is. Only the film’s characters seem oblivious.
One can focus on the negative, but I prefer to focus on the positive. Of which there is plenty. Although The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is shrouded with the pessimism involving job and culture losses, the message is very optimistic: yes, we all go through changes in life, but we can make it through and be better for it given the right circumstances and the will to make the most of it. Essentially, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a movie about seeking a meaning to life, and I agree with the message around people having to seek their own meaning out. I disagree with the idea that meaning acquisition requires putting one’s life at silly risks and doing things like suffering the cold and the exercise of the Himalayas, but to each their own.
Overall: A tad too slow, more than a bit obscure, but the eccentric nature of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty only makes the journey it takes its viewer through a more rewarding one. With 4 out of 5 crabs, I am looking for more to come my way from director Ben Stiller.