“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”
-The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
On his way to work, Walter receives a call from an eHarmony representative asking about his profile:
“Uh you’re trying to use your eHarmony account for the first time?”
“Ok, I’m looking at your profile… Oh, the been-there, done-that section.. you left it blank?”
“Ok, well I haven’t really been anywhere noteworthy or mentionable…”
“Have you done anything noteworthy or mentionable?”
Walter’s answer to that question is what this series on Life hopes to change. The quote featured above is probably the most succinct answer to life and adventure that this series can provide.
People come to view The Secret Life of Walter Mitty as a feature film distributed for consumption. Thus they consume and digest rather than let it leave its mark. Walter’s story is liberating and dreamy which makes it pleasing to consume. But the trick lies in viewing it as a cathartic experience rather than a disposable good. The Bible only became life impacting for early Christians once it was viewed as elemental; something not created but manifested; not a story but an event; not entertainment but enlightenment.
The Matrix Trilogy achieved this feat. It was able to construct an allegory strong enough to impact our life outside of the film itself. In a strange way it felt like a dream: something manifested from life but not bound by its limitations. It was an artistic and unreal expression of a real and scientific inkling:
Walter is a regular, but awkward guy who has succumbed to the trappings of a regular society. Let’s not be anti-establishment here; dichotomizing life choices into enslavement to the machine and freedom from it ventures too far from reality. But that doesn’t mean that people like Walter shouldn’t yearn for something more. In fact, the vast majority of people I know can acknowledge and appreciate Walter’s journey from self-captivity to liberation. The problem is that his story is a momentary, dream-like escape bounded by the beginning and end of a movie. Walter takes the red pill. In fact, when faced with the option of a red or blue rental car, Walter chooses the red one (a nice directorial tip of the hat to The Matrix from Ben Stiller). The linkage between The Matrix and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is not by coincidence, it was by design. Both films are callings which echo long after the TV is off.
One scene depicts Walter running down a hallway of Life Magazine front pages framed on the wall. The camera hovers on the last front page briefly to underscore the film’s message:
Everything about a spaceship blasting off into the sky seems symbolically perfect for Walter’s story, as Reagan said when Space Shuttle Challenger “slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.” A rebellious leap into space requires an explosive force to free ourselves from the shackles of gravity. Space travel is a perilous, but brave journey into the unknown. So too does Walter’s world exhibit strong forces to keep him contained. But he has the courage and optimism to defy it. That’s why the song “Space Oddity” by David Bowie, about an astronaut named Major Tom, is so beautifully integrated into the film.
As Kristen Wiig, who plays Walter’s love interest in the film, tells him, the song “is about courage and going into the unknown,” which is really what the whole film is about.
With her help, Walter goes from imagining to living adventure.
Take the red pill so you can too.