My wife and I went to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty on a date night. It got some bad reviews for being banal and saccharine, so I was prepared to be disappointed (incidentally, that is a great way to go in to see a film). I was not. I loved it.
Reviewers who disliked it criticised the use of CGI in creating fantasy scenarios, the love interest and the hidden skating talents of the protagonist. Conversely, I loved seeing a film that spoke directly to my condition as a late 30s male in a post-modern capitalist society.
In my adult life I’ve tried identities like you’ve tried shirts (or singlets, depending on your climate): socialist, anarchist, servant of State, community worker, Māori, academic, Christian, protestor. Previously I would’ve claimed that the search has been motivated by my desire to make the world a better place. That’s not untrue, but I think it is more accurate that I want my life to mean something for me personally. The fantasy scenes in Mitty could have been taken from my head in all their disconnection from reality, their supressed violence, their objectification of others and their innocence.
The society, and in particular the economic environment we live in have dulled and supressed meaning. Karl Marx talks about us being estranged from ourselves, our community and our society by virtue of the capitalist system. Capitalism specialises, and each speciality develops in isolation of each other, and often in contradiction of each other. For example, the same capitalist societies that developed our laudable standards of human rights also established almost lawless economic zones for trade in the Majority World. These contradictions are obvious but difficult for us to psychologically cope with, so we live frustrated lives of hypocrisy, contradiction and disassociation from others that match the society we have created.
My life is hypocritical: I have a Keep Cup to help save the environment but often buy coffee that is not Fair Trade or organic. My life is a contradiction: I was outspoken about the Roastbusters and JT and Willie but also I am also addicted to Bond movies which are just a tuxedo’d version of their reality. My life is disassociated from others: I give many hours for my community but don’t feel closely connected with many individuals and quite like it like that.
My fantasies are about breaking out of society, doing something so remarkable that it disrupts the every day and brings a straightforward truth to me and those around me. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is about this as well. It is the personal search for truth and significance, and the mismatch with the lives we lead. In that sense it is the non-violent brother of Fight Club. Ben Stiller is 10 years older than I am, and the movie felt like a nod to his younger brothers; he wanted to talk about what he learnt.
I’m not sure that Ben Stiller’s answers are directly relevant to me. He seems to be trying to communicate that experiences, spontaneity, courage and love are the catalyst to greater personal freedom. They are not irrelevant lessons, but I am not after other people’s answers to these questions. I just loved knowing that I am a brother with other men, even really rich actors, who have also experienced my fears and worries.
Thanks Ben Stiller.