Reviewed by: Jake Roberson
daydreamers and daydreaming
bravery / courage
Our time and work here on the Earth only derives meaning when we are working our hardest to make sure His (God’s) work is realized in our lives and the lives of others (Matthew 22:36-40 and 28:18-20).
Ben Stiller … Walter Mitty
Kristen Wiig … Cheryl Melhoff
Shirley MacLaine … Edna Mitty
Sean Penn … Sean O’Connell
Adam Scott … Ted Hendricks
Jonathan C. Daly … Tim Naughton
Kathryn Hahn … Odessa Mitty
Terence Bernie Hines … Gary Mannheim
Paul Fitzgerald … Don Proctor
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Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Samuel Goldwyn Films
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|Distributor||Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation|
“Stop dreaming. Start living.”
Does it ever feel like life can make us a little… bland? It’s not like we set out to make it that way. Sometimes things happen that we just can’t predict, and, in the wake, we put our heads down and make the responsible decisions. Then, when we finally lift our heads to survey our surroundings, we realize that our dreams and ambitions were lost along the way, usually shuffled off because they weren’t practical or conducive to survival, and it was easier to leave them behind than to bring along the heartache they pack as baggage.
Walter Mitty knows this all too well. He had to face the music that was the swan song of his dreams years ago as a seventeen-year-old kid when his father died unexpectedly. He was dutiful, leaving his passion for skateboarding and Mohawks behind in favor of a job at Papa John’s…, and he has loved his sweet, but flighty sister (Kathryn Hahn) and helped take care of his mother (Shirley MacLaine) ever since.
Now he spends his days as a negative assets manager for Life magazine, a job he’s held for the better part of two decades. It’s not that he doesn’t like his work, because he does. It’s just that he has begun to realize that his life lacks both color and flavor, but he doesn’t have a clue what to do about it. His half-baked, half-hearted plan to woo his office love interest, Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig), via an eHarmony account is the proof in the pudding. He simply isn’t noteworthy or mentionable. Not as far as he can tell, at least.
He has coped with this for years by getting lost in his daydreams, which find him frequently crossing the line between what he would like to do and what he will actually do. In his dreams he is bold and empowered, calm and suave, and even brave and courageous. But these attributes he doesn’t believe he holds or is capable of in the real world.
His real world is shaken and brought crumbling down when the rumblings of the end of Life in its print form come to fruition… and he loses his job. To make matters worse, it appears that he’s lost the most important photograph in his/Life’s life. A picture which, as described in a note by the famous and reclusive photographer who took it, Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), captures “the quintessence of life.”
It is this inciting event that provides the impetus necessary to catapult the bland and unassuming Walter Mitty into an adventure that spans the globe and blurs the lines between dreams and reality.
Themes: There is something to be said here about labels. Walter’s life has become filled with them. Thanks to the eyes and filters of others, he has been labeled a “worker bee,” a “negative assets manager,” a “Major Tom” (referring to the song), and a dreamer who “zones out” far too frequently. Worse than having those labels assigned to him, Walter has accepted them and allowed them to define them. He has resigned himself to the meaning that other’s have ascribed to his life, to himself.
But, what he comes to realize through his adventure is that he doesn’t have to accept those labels, not as they are meant, at least. He discovers that being a “Major Tom” is actually a good thing when it involves courage rather than floating in dark space, that he doesn’t need his dreams to help him forget reality, and that being a “worker bee” is a wonderful thing when the work is meant to help others.
The movie doesn’t involve God in the proceedings, but I think it’s good to remember that God has given us labels, wonderful labels, that are well worth celebrating. In God’s eyes, we are (among many other things) Wonderfully Made (Psalm 139:13-16), Chosen (Ephesians 1:4-5), Accepted (John 1:12), Forgiven and Holy through Christ (Ephesians 1:4 and 1 Peter 1:16), and Sons and Daughters (Romans 8:14-16 and 1 John 3:1). We would all do well to remember those labels and to share them generously with others, and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” could serve as nice spring board into doing just that.
Also of note and worthy of challenging is the quote that serves as the motto for Life magazine:
“To see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to. … to see and be amazed. This is the purpose of life.”
This sounds beautiful and makes sense in a context that doesn’t include God, but, in the context of a life lived for God and others, adopting this motto as one’s life philosophy doesn’t line up with Scripture. Doing and seeing all of those things can certainly be a part of our lives and experiences as followers of Christ, but we ought to be careful not to make them the center and purpose of life.
In spite of the film’s focus on this motto, there is quite a good deal of truth and power in a line from Walter’s mom that implies that his work was meaningful because he “worked the hardest to make sure his (photographer Sean O’Connell’s) work was realized.” The movie doesn’t focus in on this, but it is a poignant reminder that our time and work here on the Earth only derives meaning when we are working our hardest to make sure His (God’s) work is realized in our lives and the lives of others (Matthew 22:36-40 and 28:18-20).
Language: Thankfully minimal, but there are still five abuses of God’s name and one of Jesus’ name. Elsewhere there is one s-word, two uses each of a** and h*ll, and someone gets called a “d*ck.”
Violent Content: Walter and Ted (Adam Scott) get into a surprisingly intense fight inside an elevator that subsequently turns comical as it spills out into and through the streets of New York. There is a brief scuffle in a bar that involves a broken beer glass, but it stops right before things get bloody. A brief scene features Walter fending off a hungry shark by bopping it with his briefcase, and a scene (played for laughs) shown via a TSA scanner features Walter having a run in with some TSA agents and ends with his body being slammed into the ground.
Sexual Content: There is a short discussion about the “Pina Colada” song referring to making love either in or on a cave. One man refers to another as being a “nut pouch,” and later Walter must race to grab a lone bicycle in front of a group of men identified as being “horny Chileans headed for the strip club.” A drunken patron in an Icelandic bar makes a general warning about not cheating on your lady, especially in “a country with only eight people.”
Drug/Alcohol Content: The same drunk bar patron is shown stumbling his way through a karaoke song or two, and we later watch him drink the remains of a massive boot of beer as he offers to fly Walter out to a boat in the middle of the sea. (Walter’s understandably uncomfortable with the idea, but then he semi-inadvertently daydreams himself into accepting it, since it’s his only option). A brief comment likens a Cinnabon roll to heroin.
Conclusion: While this is labeled a remake of the 1947 version of Walter Mitty’s tale, it is really more of a reimagining. You won’t find the same intrigue here as was in the Danny Kaye version, as the sinister conspiracy that wove itself into the original’s plot has been excised in this update. This will likely bother a few viewers, especially fans of the original, as this film chooses to ignore the “Is it real or is it a dream?” intrigue in favor of a story about the journey of discovery and living life in the here and now, even the parts that feel dull, to the fullest. It accomplishes that goal well. There are chuckles to be had, instances of awe and beauty to drink in, and, although it isn’t particularly deep, even moments of quiet introspection to ponder. This version probably won’t go down in history as a classic, but it is still a solid, fun, and enjoyable film that offers parents and families a few lessons to chew on and talk through once the credits roll.
Violence: Mild / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Minor