The mundanity of real life is what usually makes the world within a film seem so immersive and desirable; The Secret Life of Walter Mitty does just that. However, the difference is that unlike most films, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty shows a desirable world that could be reality for you.
The film begins with Walter Mitty browsing a dating site, too scared to even speak to women online, bullied and ridiculed by his boss at work, whilst also working in the same place he has been for the last 16 years. A nightmare for some, a reality for many. Walter’s only sense of freedom and adventure comes from a photographer who sends him pictures of his adventures for Walter to use at his job with LIFE magazine. After his job is threatened for losing one of the pictures sent by wildlife photographer Sean O’Connell, Walter sets out to find him. Thus begins Walter Mitty’s journey into adventure, freedom, and life…
The main appeal of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty seems to be how the majority of people can relate to Walter’s seemingly meaningless and monotonous life. Sadly, that depiction of life is what real life will be for many. However, this film explores the opposite of that, it explores the art of letting go, our desire for freedom and the innate human condition in our search for meaning. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty really does raise the questions that we continually ask ourselves, “what is stopping me from just getting up and leaving?” Of course having a family makes this whole situation different as you will inevitably have responsibilities and duties that must be taken care of, but assuming you have not started a family yet and are at the right stage in your life, really, what is stopping you? The idea of having a decent job with good pay sounds nice, but is it actually nice? I find it hard to believe that a decent job and good money is actually enough, or is it even the right thing to be attempting to attain? What is desired more than this is actually a lot more primitive and simple, the desire for freedom. Jean Paul Sarte goes into great detail in his novel Nausea, exploring the depths of existentialism through the main character Antoine. Sartre ultimately gives a story of a man stricken with the curse of a meaningless existence, struggling to find meaning in anything, thus describing his existentialism as a sort of illness, as “nausea”. In another of Sartre’s texts, Being and Nothingness, he describes the individual who finds himself in a state of existential suffering to be a ‘being who causes nothingness to arise in the world’. It is frightening to think that these feelings of “nausea” are more relevant today than ever.
The overarching point of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is essentially to get up and simply do it. To chase the dream that you had when you were 15, to live the life you said you would live when you were young. If your child self met your adult self, would they be proud of where you are? Of course there is always the fact that it is way easier said than done. Nevertheless, regretting things you have done is easier than regretting the things you didn’t do. This film certainly delivers a powerful message and is extremely thought provoking, which at least for me, makes it a great film. In fact with a rating of only 7.3 on IMDB, it seems criminally underrated!
A beautiful scene near the end, where Walter finally finds Sean at the top of a mountain in the Himalayas. Sean and Walter sit whilst watching a snow leopard walk by in the distance, when Walter asks “when are you gonna take it?” to which Sean responds “Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, I mean me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”
This moment is the climax of the film as Walter has finally found Sean, and it is the climax for Sean as he has finally found the snow leopard he has travelled up a mountain to photograph, just for Walter to not get the lost picture, and Sean to not capture a picture of the snow leopard. The meaning behind this I take is to simply encourage the idea of living, instead of constantly trying to capture a moment for a later date. It encourages the idea to really be here now. I for one can say it is something I do not do near enough as I should. We are constantly remembering yesterday and thinking about tomorrow but ironically ignore the only time that holds any meaning or significance, now.
A magnificent film that captures our innate human desire for freedom. If you love this film I would also recommend Into the Wild, another film that tackles similar themes.