I was always enamored by this film when I first saw it seven years ago, but it took a couple of rewatches for me to fully appreciate THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY for the gem that it is. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it’s a film that matured gracefully as I matured as a film-lover, a journalist, a photographer, and especially as person.
In my opinion, Ben Stiller directed arguably one of the most unique films of the 2010s almost out of nowhere. It didn’t make much of a splash when it came out, with many, such as myself, feeling it was bland, boring, or lacking any sort of substance throughout its runtime. Time, however, was kind to Stiller and his choice to shoot it on film has equally been heralded as a brilliant one, as it gives the film a sense of authenticity as we follow the day-dreaming escapades of a photography enthusiast longing for adventure.
Walter’s frequent departures from reality are implied to be the major aspect of the film, but that’s not the case. There’s a tactical reason why the film feels almost like there’re two of them in one runtime and this is seen when Walter stops dreaming and starts seizing life. You can’t tell whether or not you’re dreaming with Walter or living with him and that’s the beauty of this film. It captures the moments we might miss out on if we choose to stagnate as well as the moments we might joyfully experience if we choose to grow and mature as people.
For an aimless 21-year-old at the time, this had a profound effect on me. I had no drive, no goal, and no idea what I wanted out of my life. Like Walter, I wanted something more but I felt too afraid to focus on my self-improvement and I immaturely retreated into myself; be it day-dreaming, drinking, or partying. Call it chance or divine providence, but when I saw this film and witnessed Walter finally seizing life, I knew there was hope for me yet. I didn’t want euphoric romance, I didn’t want endless wealth, and I didn’t want glamorous adventure – I wanted life to teach me to connect and stay in the moment and that’s what this film showed. It gave me hope that there’s still time to connect, to seize the moment, and to find a purpose. And so, journalism is where I felt I would find my purpose and I did.
To me, journalism provides a meaningful outlet where I’m able to connect and meet people at a human level, as well as illustrate our shared anxieties either through photography or on paper. Journalism gets a bad-rap for showcasing the ugly side of life, but that’s not true. More often than not, journalism shows us the brighter side of life and the amazing people who seize it everyday. And while the film may be a homage to the waning days of journalism, it’s also a celebration of the craft and the incredible effects it has on people. That is what this film showed me and that is why I wanted to be a journalist.
Now, at 28 and ironically enjoying the struggle of being a journalist, Walter’s journey feels as fresh as ever. His problems feel like ones that we’ve all had because sometimes we still struggle to stay present in our lives. We struggle, fail, and, like Walter, ultimately find what we’re looking for when we take a risk on life because to see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. THAT is the purpose of life.