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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

MPA Rating: PG-Rating (MPA) for some crude comments, language and action violence.

Reviewed by: Jake Roberson

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Kids Family Teens Adults
Fantasy Adventure Comedy Drama Remake
1 hr. 54 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
December 25, 2013 (wide—2,909+ theaters)
DVD: April 15, 2014
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Relevant Issues
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daydreamers and daydreaming

Copyright, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation


bravery / courage

FEAR, Anxiety and Worry—What does the Bible say? Answer

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).

Internet dating

Featuring Ben StillerWalter Mitty
Kristen WiigCheryl Melhoff
Shirley MacLaineEdna Mitty
Sean PennSean O’Connell
Adam Scott … Ted Hendricks
Jonathan C. Daly … Tim Naughton
Kathryn Hahn … Odessa Mitty
Terence Bernie Hines … Gary Mannheim
Paul Fitzgerald … Don Proctor
See all »
Director Ben Stiller
Producer Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Samuel Goldwyn Films
See all »
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

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—This is a great film-it is about adults (YET RATED PG!) and for adults and the family with older preteens. It is a fun, quirky and ultimately very enjoyable adventure story. My wife, daughter (22) and I all walked out smiling. Go and enjoy!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
Ray, age 63 (USA)
Positive—This was one of my favorite short stories when I was younger, although the movie really bears little connection. The movie in itself was wonderfully and whimsically made, and Ben Stiller is a talented director/actor to be sure. I’m tempted to even say it was wholesome; but as a Christian, I have to accept that this is a worldly movie made for the world. Even though the volume of profanity and crude humor is markedly less than most movies available (thank you for that), it’s still there.

This movie could be a good family outing, as long as key elements are addressed and talked through. Simply put, we know that the main purpose for our lives is to live for Christ, as He calls us and to bring Him glory, not ourselves. I enjoyed this movie a lot, but the message is not one for the followers of Jesus, it is for those seeking after their own way. Our lives are not going to be fuller if we learn to be brave and live life to the fullest in each moment, our lives will be fuller if we surrender to Christ and allow him to dictate how it is we are to bring Him glory through our lives, regardless of what that looks like, whether it is big and adventurous or quiet and subtle.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
Lance, age 43 (USA)
Positive—I thought it was a great movie. If you can get past Sean Penn being a picture of God in the movie, you might get what I write here. The one positive relationship Walter had was with Sean Penn’s character. Sean was always encouraging Walter, he was always speaking of Walter’s worth to him. Regarding the photograph, Sean provided everything that Walter needed, but Walter wasn’t aware of the provision that was already his (the photo in the wallet). God has provided all that we need already if we are His children, but we often struggle to trust this.

Even Walter’s lack of vision (not knowing the photo was there) proves to come out to Walter’s good. God often uses our own lack of faith for our good. Again, I thought this was an excellent movie, and I could go on regarding the positive message of faithfulness and final glorification (the cover).
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
Jon, age 52 (USA)
Positive—Wow, great movie! Really interesting, adventurous and pretty clean. He said a few things, and I recall a few cuss words, but, overall, it was very clean—no sex, drugs and one alcohol scene with a guy that was disgustingly grossly drunk, which is a turn off anyway more then looking like a temptation. Great message, interesting filming and the scenery was very good. A movie that can wait for video if you don’t want to spend the money in the theater. Good job Stiller!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
Stephanie, age 39 (USA)
Positive—How many kids daydream of things when little? I did—and I was lucky enough to have a job that allowed me to see and do things that I NEVER thought I’d get to do. The movie is great in helping me remember what it was like to have a BIG dream. The quiet guy, just doing his job—I appreciated the nuances to the character Ben Stiller brought—pretty good since some of his other movie characters were over-the-top to say the least. I appreciated his acting—not something I say when I leave a theater.

I appreciated the even storytelling that included his family—never over the top. I certainly appreciated the lack of offensive language and other elements that are often in Stiller’s other movies. All in all, I appreciated the movie and Ben Stiller’s acting.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Casey, age 48 (USA)
Positive—Great movie. Take your kids! Take your friends. You won't be disappointed. I recall one curse word (and no f-bombs, ZERO nudity, zero innappropriate sexual content). Great plot, especially if you're not familiar with the book or original. Amazing special effects. I wish Hollyweird would make more movies like this. It made you think. It kept me guessing. For nearly 2 hours I forgot about the world and just enjoyed an entertaining movie.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
Michael A., age 45 (USA)
Positive—Disagree lightly with the main review’s take on the motto. It’s clearly about “the purpose of Life®,” not “the purpose of life”. Having worked at GE, Mars, InterContinental Hotels, a national consultancy, and consulted to a range of non-profits, some of them faith-based, I can say that having such a vision for one’s organization is rare and laudable. Would that we all worked for organizations with such goals. We are all called to bring our values into every arena of our lives; so often (especially in for-profit) these seem to be left behind, relegating our loftier goals to Sunday worship or mid-week small-group study. I applaud this film’s promotion of Life’s motto.

I also worry less than some of the comments about Sean Penn’s role. I do see Walter’s encounter with Sean as a fulcrum of the movie; but I surely do not see Sean as God. At best he’s a prophet, a gifted and quirky fellow-traveler with some priceless insights to share. I certainly wouldn’t mark the film down for this. In fact, I see the Sean-Walter scene as critical for its exploration of content versus experience. Sean has made his living creating content—capturing images to share with the rest of us. But, in the moment, he admits that sometimes the experience is too compelling. He chooses not to transform the living experience into content. See all »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
Stephen, age 60 (USA)
Positive—Excellent movie, shown to one of my classes at school. It’s thought-provoking, well acted, with themes that appeal to young people, such as identity, adventure, calling, family relationships, bullying, isolation, hope, and perseverance.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
Steve, age 53 (United Kingdom)
Comments from young people
Positive—I thought this movie was amazing! It had a really touching and inspiring point to it, that we need to stop imaging our dreams and start chasing them. I thought Ben Stiller did an amazing job. The acting was amazing. It’s one of those movies when you walk away from and feel really inspired and touched! I can’t wait to watch it again! I don’t understand why the critics are hacking on this film?! Personally, with all the violent movies out lately, this movie was refreshing. I would recommend this movie to anybody! Go see!!! It is truly amazing.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Meaghan, age 14 (USA)
Positive—I am a Christian. I am a young Christian at the spritely age of 17, with much to be learned, especially considering I’m about to be thrown into the real world. As a shy introvert, I often found myself in the shoes of Walter, imagining great scenarios in my head to escape reality, to escape who I really am. Later in the film, Walter goes on a great adventure with a great lack of daydreaming. That is the only trait he left behind. Because he refused to believe the bologna that he’d been fed.

He is still soft-spoken, timid, hardworking. He went on his journey just as he was. I think that’s a great lesson to us as Christians. God made each of us in his own image. I’m a young shy introvert, just as I should be. I would shy away from sharing the gospel because “that’s for outgoing people.” No no no. God made us as we are for a specific purpose, from the sound of our voice to the stability of our mind. Maybe there is a young shy introvert who thinks she needs to be older, louder, more outgoing, to be a part of the family of God. That’s why God made me the way I am. To relate to her. There are things I need to do that no one else can, because I’m made for one unique purpose.

Walter bonded with O’Connel as Walter, not the outgoing Walter or the funny Walter. Nothing would have been the same, nothing would have worked out in the end, if Walter tried to be anything but who he was. In the same way, we are made in his image for a purpose only we can fulfill. Only we can find slide 25. Not “Hannah when shes older and braver.” No, me right now. Because I am how God made me.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Hannah, age 17 (USA)

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