Film Fridays 1/5: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Over the past year we have had five amazing interns spicing things up at the Chapel through their fun and faithful service. For the final study assignment of the internship, we asked them to write an engaging with culture film review blog post. They were so good we thought they’d deserved a wider audience. And, to make things a bit more interesting, the post with the most likes/comments on Facebook (once we’ve shared it there) wins its writer a little prize.
First up is Abby Harmon, on The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
If you haven’t yet seen The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, first, slap yourself, then skip on over to your closest HMV (Best Buy for all you ‘mericans) and buy the film. Seriously, it’s an investment. It’s one of those movies that reveals itself in a new way each time you sit down to watch (not that I’m comparing it with Scripture). But in a way, film is the world’s scripture. It’s the means whereby the major themes, convictions, and philosophies that any certain culture are most heavily and subconsciously communicated and therefore, must be examined by both the Christian and unchristian alike in order to understand the mind-set in which that particular culture is currently engaged. (I quite like that sentence.) I mean, that’s the point of all these blog posts right?
I’m telling you, go watch it now. This post DOES contain spoiler alerts.
Now that you’ve seen the movie, I won’t bore you with a scene-by-scene review of the *insert fancy film-making vocabulary here*. Instead, we’re going to think about the (certainly non-cliché) question that I’m sure you’ve never thought about and most obviously have never been asked before:
What is the meaning of life?
In order to get my point across, we need to review the two main characters and their relationship with one another. I would like to assert that, contrary to popular belief, the most influential character in the film is adventure photographer extraordinaire, Sean O’Connell. We don’t know much about the personal life of Sean, but we do know he goes to a lot of places, and does a lot of crazy adventure things. He’s brave, creative, and is ridiculously good-looking, if you like that rugged outdoorsy type….yep. Anyways, Sean takes pictures for LIFE magazine and is held in very high esteem by both the characters in the film and also the film-makers. He is the man that every woman wants, and every man wants to be, including Walter.
Then there’s Walter. He’s a nice guy who takes care of his mum and sister. He’s reliable in the work place, and would be a most dependable friend if he had any, kind of like a dog. Walter, however, is a tad boring. I mean, come on, his name is Walter. He doesn’t necessarily possess a plethora of outstanding qualities and is often plagued by the “could-be” of his life. The ballsiest thing he has done thus far is send an eharmony “wink” to Cheryl (you know who this is because you’ve just watched the movie). Walter’s downfall is his discontentment with his life. He doesn’t believe he has done anything “noteworthy or mentionable”. Regularly, through-out the day, he zones out and imagines what he would say to the office bully, or what he would do to win the girl, or where he would be if he was as cool as Sean O’Connell. Granted, the universe does seem to be working against him in the first half of the film, but we don’t believe in universal consciousness so scratch that.
Walter (and essentially the filmmakers) believe that life and all its purposes are best described by Sean O’Connell, his adventures, and the little phrase on his wallet:
“TO SEE THE WORLD, THINGS DANGEROUS TO COME TO, TO SEE BEHIND WALLS, TO DRAW CLOSER, TO FIND EACH OTHER AND TO FEEL. THAT IS THE PURPOSE OF LIFE.”
Yeah, it’s a nice poem that a lot of people will probably get tattooed across their shoulder blade. And ultimately, there’s nothing harmful about believing it (*cough* FALSE *cough*). But what I find interesting is that Sean O’Connell himself, the man who everyone would hold as ‘the definition of life and living it’ would define life and its purpose very differently. Along with the wallet, Sean sends Walter a final note with his last set of negatives. He tells Walter that this infamous negative #25 captures the “quintessence” of Life and that it should be used for the cover of the magazine’s final print issue. Of course, the negative is missing and the entire film from then on is Walter fulfilling his dreams as he searches the world for the negative. Meanwhile our curiosity builds. “What is the picture?” “What does Sean O’Connell think is ‘the quintessence’ of life?”
****SPOILER ALERT**** …Seriously, don’t read any more if you haven’t watched it. It will ruin everything.
The negative is a picture of Walter. Sean, who has seen the entire world, met people from hundreds of cultures, eaten strange things, been to scary places and survived, probably been with many women, and made tons of money, sees all of that as nothing. Remind you of anyone in Scripture? When Sean thinks of life, and what it means to live it, he thinks of Walter. He uses the word ‘quintessence’ which means ‘the most perfect or typical example of quality’. To Sean, Walter is just that. He then thanks Walter for “all the years of hardwork” and for being faithful.
Walter is faithful in what he is called to do. It’s not exciting or thrilling. But he does it and he does it well and he does it faithfully.
Jesus tells us something similar in the Parable of the talents. (Matthew 25:14-30 for further study). “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little.”
Now, I (probably like yourself) fell prey to the world’s “scriptural teaching” the first time I watched the film. I felt like I had done nothing because I haven’t been longboarding in Iceland. But the purpose for me, right now, is to be faithful in the little things that God has entrusted to me. To love others, to serve the church, to be a good steward, and to give him all the glory for it, that is my purpose in life.
When we see look with our finite eyes through culturally-shaped lenses we see all of that as boring and mundane, like Walter did. But we have something that Walter didn’t have. We have a God who created us, and then died for us, so that we can have all kinds of crazy adventures WITH HIM, FOREVER where he will say, “well done, good and faithful servant”. That’s more exciting than any mountain climb, deep-sea dive, or eharmony wink, I think.
The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6).