Film, Life, Faithfulness (Also Possibly Some Spoilers)
I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (the new one, with Ben Stiller) again last night. It was the third time I'd seen it, and for most movies, the third time is not the charm. In fact, it's usually the antidote to the charm. The third viewing is the one where I start to notice all the things that are wrong with a film and become progressively disenchanted. However, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has passed the grueling test of my scrutiny yet again, has earned approval, and has, in fact, been installed as one of my favorites.
Why do I like it so much?
That's the question I was asking myself as I watched it last night. Sure, it's funny, artistic, has a good soundtrack AND it's partly about a photographer, but those elements alone aren't enough to make me want to view it again and again, even after I know what happens next and can quote most of the lines. There's something more; a deeper truth that lies just below the surface and which I recognized instinctively the first time I watched it, but without comprehending precisely what that truth was.
After some consideration, I think I may have finally figured it out.
Years pass, and the main story opens on Walter as an uncomplaining, unassuming middle-aged man, with a good job in the photography department of LIFE magazine. He thoughtfully cares for his aging mother and gadabout sister and he is a meticulous, steady employee, well-liked by the handful of people who know him. His old aspirations have become a mere fantasy, manifesting only as a series of improbable alternative-reality scenarios which plays out in his imagination. Walter's occasional, half-hearted attempts to add some variety to the sameness of his life are met with failure until an eccentric photographer, a misplaced film negative and disturbing changes in the managerial department of LIFE send him off on a whirlwind adventure which exceeds even his own vivid imagination.
I realized that the story harmonizes well with John 15:13; 'No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends.' Throughout the film, we see Walter continually 'laying down his life' (in the form of personal dreams and hopes) for the sake of his family. We also see his deep humility, not only in his sacrifice, but also in his willingness to start at a low-end job and slowly work his way to the top. He is so unassuming, so dedicated, that even on a hair-raising helicopter ride or atop a Himalayan peak, he is unimpressed by his own accomplishment. In Walter's mind, he's just doing what needs to be done in order to accomplish the task at hand. He wants to see the job finished, and finished well, and he doesn't expect his performance to be met with applause.
Ultimately, it is because of his faithfulness and self-sacrifice that Walter is sent off on the adventure of a lifetime, and it is the lovely portrayal of these qualities that has earned The Secret Life of Walter Mitty a place on my (fairly short) list of favorite movies. Is the film perfect? No. Does it contain some elements that I disapprove of? Yes.*
But at its core, it's a celebration of a quiet, persistent courage that continually sacrifices personal preference and ambition for the good of others.**
And I think that we would all benefit from a few more movies like that.
*And did I just completely over-think the entire movie? Probably.
**It's also about fending off a shark with a briefcase. Definitely worth the watch.