Ben Stiller’s Walter Mitty is a shy, introverted negative assets manager at Life magazine, a business that’s been newly acquired to be an online-only publication. Adam Scott leads the merger team, and proves to be as perfectly evil as you’d expect from someone wearing that fake-beard.
But the plot of Walter Mitty isn’t actually what’s great about this movie. And that’s why, I think, critics seem to have been disappointed by this venture. The real beauty of Walter Mitty lies in its protagonist’s transition. Maybe it’s because I’m a dreamer myself, prone to existing in other worlds when I really, truly shouldn’t be, but Walter’s lack of action in his world really strung a chord with me.
That’s why we watch movies, isn’t it? To escape? And if it is, then Ben Stiller pulls off the ultimate escape in Walter Mitty, taking his hero from sitting where the audience is – and in an age of action and anti-heroes, Walter’s a throwback to the era that the original Walter Mitty story came from, a romantic, small-but-still counts kind of man – and forces him to take action in his life. The kind that isn’t imagined.
As a boy, he had a Mohawk and was a skateboard champion. He had a tramping pack and was ready to go traveling across Europe, but then his father died, and that life and those dreams were replaced by a reality where he was forced to grow up before he ever saw the world that he was supposed to. Every day we live a life in a world where, if you don’t force yourself to act, we can fall into complacency so easily. Walter spends sixteen years at Life magazine watching the world through photos that other people have taken, before he finally realizes that it’s time to reclaim those pieces of who he was when he was younger, with his newer, older self.
In short: Walter Mitty is forced to wake up.
The execution of Stiller’s film doesn’t quite meet his aims, sure, but when you’ve got something this bold – but at the same time so classic, and so old-fashioned – being created in mainstream cinema, I think you have to at the very least applaud the idea and the feeling of hope that it portrays.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a film for daydreamers, and an image of something for people that are looking for more. It’s not physically being alone that’s terrible, but the feeling of being alone, and needing to escape into daydreams rather than enjoying your reality. In Walter Mitty, Ben Stiller takes a man that has become seemingly trapped in one way of living, and forces him outside of his self-made prison and into the wider world. Change is uncomfortable to deal with, but with Walter, Stiller shows us what good can come from a shake-up, and reminds us of the things that are truly important in this life. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is flawed, sure, but it’s held up by the most beautiful idea.
“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”
- Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn
- Directed by: Ben Stiller
- Running Time: 114 minutes
- Genre: Adventure, Romance, Comedy, Drama