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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

In a sea of horrors, thrillers and psychological dramas, Ben Stiller's latest directorial effort is a feel-good film that the whole family can enjoy. Wael Khairy explains why the fantasy hit so close to home.

Ben Stiller nails a comeback to his bullying boss, sweeps a hot girl off her feet, and saves a three-legged dog from an exploding building as Walter Mitty, a sad daydreaming employee at Life magazine. This is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. In reality, he zones out, staring at a kitchen mug or something, while bystanders comically attempt to snap him out of his escapades.

The premise behind the film is quite inspiring when you think about it. We’re all stuck in a world that brainwashes us into being followers to a system; we rarely go for our dreams, and regrettably almost always settle for what we have. According to research conducted by The University of Minnesota, people spend half their waking hours daydreaming about extraordinary scenarios. Daydreams vary from thinking about your loved ones’ reactions to your death, getting a standing ovation for whatever it is you do, indirectly impressing your crush, and so on. After compiling the results into two categories, researchers have found that the types of daydreams fall into two categories, the “conquering hero” and the “suffering martyr.” The conquering hero usually overcomes huge obstacles, saves the day, and takes the overwhelming feedback from others like any hero would, with unconditional humbleness. The “suffering martyr” daydreams about a situation where people regret misunderstanding what a great person the daydreamer really is.

It is quite sad, when you think about it, but we all do it. The truth is, we would rather be subjected to public humiliation than have our daydreams projected to others. They’re personal and private and reveal desires we pretend serve little importance to us. To this day, we do not know whether these daydreams are the cause of unhappiness or a result of it. However, the correlation does exist, and the only way to eliminate both unhappiness and imaginary daydreams from your mind is to actually live the dream, or at least give it a try, and that’s exactly what Walter Mitty sets out to do.

The tagline of this wonderful little film is a very clear and direct call for action, “Stop Dreaming. Start Living.” Ben Stiller directs this feel-good comedy with art-house flair. Sometimes, the film plunges into moments of sheer goofiness, which derives it from reaching the calibre of greatness. Sean Penn has little screen time, but his shadow is cast over the entire film, for the whole setup revolves around Mitty chasing the great photographer, Sean O’Connell, into the unknown. His presence in this film reminds me of the godlike appearance of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. When Penn finally makes his cameo, the sound of silence echoes throughout the cinema, as audiences relish the legendary actor’s grandiosity.

An exquisite snow leopard, known as the “ghost cat” for rarely being seen, walks into sight. When Penn’s character doesn’t take a picture, Stiller asks why? To which he replies, he doesn’t always take pictures. Sometimes, he sees something that moves him so profoundly; he’d rather admire and savour the beauty of the moment than interrupt it with a snapshot. Such scenes seem to come from a different reality than that of Stiller goofing around. I admire the film’s originality, and the thought-provoking twist ending, but daydream of a deeper director’s cut. 


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