Movie review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)




Earlier tonight, I finally went to see Ben Stiller`s film, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. A much anticipated movie (by me, at least), it`s a next step in Stiller`s career that up until now consisted largely of comedy. Both starring and directed by Stiller, it`s a movie about a man, Walter Mitty, age 42, who is essentially an office mouse. Hunched up, a daydreamer, in love with one of his colleagues who doesn`t even know his name. He`s done nothing mentionable, been nowhere mentionable, up to a point where he leaves his accomplishes list on a dating site empty because there aren`t any.

Let`s get this out of the way first: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is not particularly exciting, it`s not particularly funny (at least not in the comedy type we`re used to from Stiller). It`s not mind-blowing, and it could do with a bit of tweaking here and there. It`s utterly predictable, too.

But it`s worth every cent to go and watch it.

Starting with the bad parts just now mentioned: it`s a strangely calm movie. There are big, important scenes, there is some action and violence, but generally speaking it`s a very calming movie. It`s not mind-blowing like, say, the Avengers. Instead, it works much more subtly, despite almost slapping you in the face with some messages. Yes, it can do with some tweaking still, and there are moments where you`ll go “well that`s just really silly”. It`s a very predictable movie, but to be honest? I didn`t mind one bit. It`s done in such a good way, that although yes, you see everything coming from miles away, it still works and it still fascinates and moves you.

Right, moving on to the good parts.

Aside from the obvious “stop dreaming, start living” message that they all but scream at you through the use of the magazine`s motto plastered all over the screen at every moment (at least in the first part of the movie), there are more subtle messages in this film as well. The most important one is the  running theme of letting go of the past, but more on that later.

First, cinematography. Because wow.


Perhaps a bit of a clichéd example, but it definitely works.

There are less clichéd examples as well. There`s a scene where Walter gets on the airplane to Greenland. You see the airplane, a splash of red against a boring, grey background, in very neatly made up surroundings, all lines and squares and very tidy and clean. It`s organised, but it`s also very controlled and manufactured. Then the scene transitions, and you see that same red plane gliding into a green surrounding with rugged mountains and cliffs and lakes, and little houses in different colours scattered all over. Compared with the clean airport, it`s messy and unruly and an explosion of colours, and for some reason it feels like a real relief to see it. It`s an amazing piece of cinematography, and it happens a lot. The movie is an absolute delight to watch, with both very obvious things like Walter running past the LIFE coverphoto of Stiller with “the makings of a brave man” written on it, to a water pattern on the office floor when Walter is working on the water photograph. If you go see this movie, pay attention to these details; they make the movie even more fun than it already is.

There, now that we have the standard “go watch because pretty” out of the way, I`d like to steer this review into a more personal direction.

See, thing is, this film hit a bit of a chord in me.

Returning to all the pretty cinematography for a bit, because all the travelling awoke that yearning to travel again. I have a bit of a case of wanderlust. I hate staying in one place for too long, and the prospect of not knowing when I get to leave this country again and discover the world, is something I struggle with on a daily basis. I have lived like they do in the movies, I have actual travel experiences like that, and I miss it. My heart goes out to London, to Kyoto, to those places I have already been. My stomach flurries at the thought of visiting all those other, magnificent places I have not yet had the chance to see. Iceland is now definitely on my list of places to visit, too. I`d already been thinking about it for a while, but after seeing this movie I`ve moved it up a few places on my list of places-to-visit (spoiler alert: my list is really just “VISIT EVERYTHING”).

I`m also a bit more depressed than I already was, because I don`t have the money to pay my rent, let alone please my wanderlust.

Walter Mitty in a way, is me. He embodies everything I fear to become, that “little grey paper” who zones out all the time, daydreaming of the things he could have done, things he could still do, but instead he`s at this office and has done nothing worth mentioning with his life.

I too zone out quite a bit. Though I`m generally not as far gone as Walter (not usually, that is). I am terrified of becoming like him, a grey mouse in an office, a worker like everyone else.

There`s a running theme in the movie of letting go of the past and living your life in the moment. It`s shown in the piano that they do everything to keep, to the toy Walter is given for his birthday (“remember how we used to play with this!”). Walter and his sister are stuck in the past, and very much so. They just can`t let go, to a point where his sister is literally trying to act in something from the past. Interestingly, it`s their mother who is very much ready to move on, and already the perfect example of how to remember the past without clinging to it.

Eventually, Walter`s toy gets exchanged for a skateboard while in Iceland. It`s such a metaphorical moment: an object from his childhood, exchanged for an object he learned to use as a teenager and is now using as an adult. They`re saying very clearly that no, you should not forget your past, far from it. But do you need to learn to let it go. Remember what you did, learn from it, and then move on and stop clinging to the past. And then wait and see what happens.


Using skills learned in his past to literally – and figuratively – move forward.

I, too, have been working on letting go of the past. I`ve been doing this for a couple of months now, slowly clearing out my room, taking out things I don`t use or need. I`m trying to do the same with my mind – learn from past mistakes and experiences. Don`t forget them, but move on anyway. It`s a difficult and largely metaphorical process, but a very important one if you want to get anywhere at all. And I loved how much of this the movie showed.

Walter learns to let go throughout the movie. It takes very extreme circumstances for him to get there – he`s both literally and figuratively climbing mountains and jumping into the deep. He`s batting off real sharks (in Greenland`s waters) before he learns to fence off the figurative sharks in the shape of Ted Hendricks. He climbs a mountain in Afghanistan just to realise he`s had what he needed with him all along. Walter learns to let go in the most beautiful process. It`s done very subtly, and it`s amazing to witness. .

No one can deny that the Walter you see at the beginning is a fate much, much worse than the Walter you see at the end of the film. In the beginning he is hunched over, dressed rigidly,  constantly stuck in his own mind, and seems to accept everything that happens with a quiet reluctance. In the end of the movie, he sits and walks straighter, wears much better clothing, conforms less to what everyone else wants and does much more what he wants to do. He`s learned to let go, and it`s such a great sight.

And it`s something I`ve been wanting for myself for very long.

This movie has reminded me, once again, of what I want to do. And making films like this one is one of my goals.

And like Walter and Cheryl, I might already have everything I need here. But I simply can`t yet connect all the hints to see the storyline. And it will take time, and some mountains and sharks and skateboards to figure it all out. And you know what? It`s okay, because I still have a lifetime ahead of me to figure things out.


Are you still here? Cool. Have a cookie. You deserve it, for making it through this entire review. Wow.

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