I’ll start this off with a disclaimer. Much of what you see below is inner monologue. I interpret this movie as if it is the universe trying to shine a beacon of light towards an answer. The question refers to the meaning of life, how to live it, and why it’s worth it to do so. As such some stuff may not make sense. Some stuff may be rambling. And maybe it all makes sense like that to me, point is there is no wrong to the text below. It is merely the way I think I see things. Today. This hour.
So here I am, fresh after seeing this work of imagination and, although it’s an interesting mix of inspirational posters and predictability (not to say it’s not good), I’m here to talk a little bit about the big picture. I guess the trailer is vague on what happens to Walter Mitty but it’s not that revolutionary an idea, so I’ll consider this post to be littered with mild spoilers.
So I’m here to talk about the ending. Well, not exactly the ending but rather the message this movie wants us to carry with us out of the cinema. And, beside being one of the kinds of works of fiction that I enjoy the most (i.e. the ones where imagination takes hold and the vision is more important than anything else), I feel there are two possible takeaways from this movie, at least as to help us understand the ending:
1. There is the straightforward interpretation:
You have a man by the banal name of Walter Mitty leading a banal life but dreaming passively about a life without restraint, where anything is possible and he is its center. Along the movie, he suddenly decides to (albeit passively I’d say) chase that life and becomes the kind of person he and culture dream him to be. The reason this falls short is at a certain point in time Walter Mitty turns into Derek Zoolander. And that point is when he chooses to follow a hallucination into a helicopter. You see this man keeping a record of expenses and then, well then he goes on an adventure. Him, mister grey. The guy who stands behind a desk inside a basement all day, dreaming about how life should be. I don’t like this, because it says the only way for someone like that to be free, to live this life of enjoyment and satisfaction is in his mind.
Because that’s the irony of this movie, going on an adventure can only happen when you dream it. A man like Walter Mitty would never take that chance, he couldn’t, there would be no possible way for him to do so. He would sit at his desk, expense sheet in one hand, head in the other, and worry endlessly about how impossible the dream is. Even if he would somehow find himself on the way to that destination he wouldn’t go on, not as simply and merrily as he does in this movie. The loose ends would not be so thoroughly tied, and probably he wouldn’t get the ending he did.
Rambling complete, I feel I should head somewhere with this. The message here is that the life we dream of, the one that’s drilled into our head by every movie and every book and every failed relationship, the one which will give us happiness and togetherness and purpose, is nothing but a dream. Something that can only be achieved if somehow we would, overnight, develop into this mythological being who’s the perfect height, the perfect weight, with attractive blue eyes and rugged stubble, with the ability to jump into adventure head first and keep on track, suddenly knowing the right things to think and say, suddenly able to fit into the world.
And that’s something that makes me sad, because I think life is about more than scaling the Everest and riding down a perfect Icelandic road. True joy comes from being able to appreciate what happens around you, like a good wine, or a nice song. So I guess my point is the movie really misses the mark here because it doesn’t show Walter Mitty turning his life into one of awesome exploration, but rather it shows him turning into something he’s not. It just hammers home the massive fallacy of a teenage kid: the impression that being the cool kid is what matters, and once you’ve mastered that, you’ve won. But let’s move on.
2. There is the positive interpretation:
Hope is the point. Regardless of how much disbelief you hold in your life, there is an adventure to be had, and positive emotions to be held. Unbelievable coincidences and real good people will show you the way out of the gray existence you feel is the only possible way. Perhaps even after 16 years of the same grind the world will give you a way out. Even if now, and for the next unbelievably long amount of time, you feel small, meaningless, invisible, there will be a day when you will shake this away, a day when the world will recognise that you do matter. It’s hard for me to go very much into this because as it stands I find it hard to believe in this possible future revolution, because for so many people it doesn’t happen.
But of course that is the point of much of the movie, showing us what beautiful things exist in this world. Beautiful people, beautiful places, beautiful friendships which happen out of nowhere. And that is mostly what life is about. Looking at the amazing things that make up every waking minute of us being here. At least that’s what I think. I don’t know, I can’t really feel it. But, again, that is what the movie wants to suggest, that hope should be had, and that with just a minute amount of effort and fortune, things can become extraordinary again. I like a lot that the movie showed that Walter used to be hip when he was a kid and that, when no one’s looking, he’s pretty awesome. That is actually the part that fills me, personally, with hope. The fact that the awesomeness that once was or is and is hidden, actually does exist. That part is not dead and buried, but just dormant, and we should nurture it, maybe some day it’ll blossom.
Look, there’s a lot more to this discussion, but the truth is it’s late, and it’s not really going anywhere. That’s my issue with the movie I guess, that I leave it touched by how things turned out for Walter Mitty, but not an inch closer to understanding how to bring the same into my own life… I respect these movies because they show us fantastic worlds and possibilities, and because if you are in the proper mood, this kind of story can push you right over the edge in building something, creating the kind of surprise you like to see in the world. I guess the simplest example would be this… text. But I am still very far from understanding how one can practically change their life for the better without expecting things to turn into a wild and implausible spontaneous adventure. I would have love to see what the real Walter Mitty would have done. How he would have managed to reconcile the expense sheet with his pursuit of that goal, even with the horror of financial instability (after 16 years of order!) bearing down on him. How he would have let go of the fear and make the first few steps. How he would have quit but persevered. How he would have compromised and found the elements in his life that would have made him a happy, content man. Why is our culture so obsessed with things being perfect? Why is this message being sent that without perfection happiness is unattainable?!
Personally I’m glad that Walter Mitty went on an adventure, I’m glad that things mostly worked out, but feel that he just had a short brush with greatness and now he’s back. He’s changed some things but he is still heading for the same kind of common life. What is he left with now that it’s all done? That’s what the movie doesn’t say.
On the other hand, maybe I’m just reading far too much into this, and it was just another nice story, about a man who goes on a journey and comes back better. But it still hurts me that I can’t understand the how.