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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, published in 1939, was one of James Thurber’s most famous stories.  Considered a masterpiece, it has made its mark on our society and even our language.  It is the story of a little man who spends his time in heroic daydreams when in real life he is dominated by his wife and doomed to boredom.  The story was radically adapted in the 1947 movie, in which Danny Kaye enlivens the story with music and overcomes his daydreams to become a real-life hero.  Now we get another look at Walter Mitty in the 2013 film starring Ben Stiller.  Walter starts out as a wimpy negative assets manager (photographs) for Life Magazine, a man who daydreams about fantastic adventures and his beautiful but unobtainable co-worker, Cheryl Melhoff.  But the company is being downsized as it converts to on-line status, and everyone fears for their jobs.  Famous photojournalist Sean O’Connell sends Walter a package containing a wallet and negatives, and tells him that negative 25 captures the ‘quintessence of Life magazine,’ and that it should be used for the cover of the magazine’s final print issue.  But negative 25 is missing, and so Walter follows the clues and sets out to track down Sean and find the negative.  Inspired by the imaginary Cheryl singing about Major Tom (Space Oddity, by David Bowie), Walter gains the courage to have real life, fantastic adventures (such as jumping out of a helicopter flown by a drunk into icy, shark infested waters, outracing an erupting volcano, skateboarding down a lonely highway, and climbing mountains in the Himalayas), all the while having cell phone conversations with the persistent customer services rep Todd Maher from e-Harmony.   Walter ends up changing himself and finding happiness through his real life adventures.  I really enjoyed this whimsical version of Walter Mitty.  There are layers and layers of meaning beneath the silliness.  We all have a little Walter Mitty inside us.  For the most part our lives are boring and predicable.  We yearn for adventure.  Too few of us actually seize the chance to actually go and do something exciting.  So here’s my new year’s challenge to myself and to all of you:  this year, go and do something courageous and outrageously out of your comfort zone.  Go and have an adventure! (And see the movie.)


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