Film & TV

Review – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Loosely based on the 1939 short story by James Thurber, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty explores the idyllic fantasies of its titular protagonist, as he attempts to escape the mundane motions of his daily routine employment at Life Magazine.

A fantasy adventure with glimpses of comedy, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is, in one word, pleasant.

When Mitty (Ben Stiller) discovers that photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) has misplaced the negative intended for the cover of the final issue, he sets out on a larger-than-life journey to locate the missing photograph. While reducing his need for daydreams, he discovers that not even his wildest fantasies are a match for an adventurous reality.

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In addition to starring, Stiller also takes on directing duty, and in collaborating with writer Steven Conrad, does a mostly wonderful job of adapting Thurber’s classic tale.

A fantasy adventure with glimpses of comedy, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is, in one word, pleasant. Envision a pyramid; the dreamlike sequences sit comfortably and rightfully atop its as the film’s highlights. With the lines between fantasy and reality often being blurred in Mitty’s zoned out state of paralysis, he invites us into his crazy, hazy, even mazy lapses into daydreams of romanticism, adventure and pleasure.

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The fantasy sequences in the The Secret Life of Walter Mitty‘s are so successful because of their relation to our own imaginations: the things we wish we could say but don’t; the places we wish we could go but won’t. The fantasy sequences are inspired by popular movies such as The Matrix, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Harry Potter and pretty much every superhero film. The hilarious and creative approach to Mitty’s fantasies offer an insightful look into how uninsightful our own imaginations can be, as they crave originality but settle for things we’ve all seen before.

A slight disappointment to Mitty’s onscreen daydreams is their quantity. While Thurber’s short story is dominated by the character’s constant drift into his fantasy worlds, Stiller’s adaptation favours reality and narrative over fantasy and themes. It may have been beneficial for Stiller to lengthen the film in order to incorporate more of Mitty’s wild fantasies,which in turn would have better established his dissatisfaction with life.

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Despite this, the story is intriguing enough for it not to be the film’s demise. The secrecy behind the missing negative drives the film forward, while love interest Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) spurs Mitty on in the passenger’s seat, inspiring the anxious and rigid dreamer to take his unpredictable ride and become the person he desires to be.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is refreshing in its lack of reliance on dialogue. Instead the film’s beautiful soundtrack and score, its cinematography in exceptional landscapes and even the quietness of Mitty, tell us everything we need to know. It consists of visual wonderment, with superbly selected and composed music to harmonise the scenery, complementing each other as they stroll hand in hand through Mitty’s perfectly paced journey.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a relatable, pleasant and semi-inspirational modernisation of Thurber’s story.

“Life is about courage and going into the unknown.” If you fail to relate to Mitty’s early illusory state, cautiousness and absence of courage, then you probably live a somewhat audacious lifestyle, in which case, good for you! For the rest of us, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a relatable, pleasant and semi-inspirational modernisation of Thurber’s story.

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Just as the film’s concluding third appears to have little payoff considering its memorable opening two, it wraps up with a revitalising, picture-perfect moment, fulfilling enough to make cinemagoers reconsider 2013’s most impressive movies.

In spite of its imperfections in almost keeping Mitty’s secret life somewhat of a secret from the audience, and preferencing the plot over his fantasies, this adaptation is nonetheless a satisfying, fun, visually and audibly pleasing present for the holiday season. Not even Walter Mitty would fantasise about battling you through the streets of Manhattan if you waited for The Secret Life of his on DVD or Netflix, but this delightful film is definitely worth the time and box office cost if you find yourself looking to inspire your own imagination.

Bharat Samra


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2 Comments on this post.
  • Lucy Cooper
    1 January 2014 at 19:32
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    I thought this film was a lovely entertaining piece which made me smile especially at the well signalled ending 🙂

  • Brandi
    7 January 2014 at 15:51
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    There is definately a great deal to learn about this
    topic. I really like all the points you have made.

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