What is life? What does it mean to live? What does it mean to live well? What does it mean to be truly alive? These may be some of the questions that you are confronted with upon watching Ben Stiller’s rendition of Thruber’s classic story about a henpecked man struggling with boredom and listlessness due to lack of a preferable preoccupation. Though I remember Thurber’s story in bits and pieces, it is safe to say that the motion picture borrows very little from the original short story except that the protagonist is a habitual daydreamer brought to his knees by the terrible cruelty of circumstances and the rigorous demands of modern life. He is the classic male tragedy of our modernity with sacrifices and compromises piled up on top of an overbearing sense of responsibility. He is lost, clueless and prone to fantastic reveries wherein he is the protagonist as well as the ‘Hero’.
This is my first post and as such I chose not to write a movie review but rather analyse a particular piece of mainstream cinema that I happened to like. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is not a revelation, its not a reckoning and it most certainly will not be remembered forever. It is a corny flick with an inspirational twist that leaves you misty eyed and may be in some ways leads you to believe that it’s very different from its predecessors. That is not always the case. However, the movie deals with a stale subject with such freshness that one is impressed with the vitality of its treatment. May be the movie affects me in such a way because I am at this point in life where it is hard to choose which road to travel. I am young, lost clueless and don’t really know what to do with my life and that may well be the reason why i choose to write about this movie in my first post.
What is the purpose of our existence? Nearly every single one of us has poured over this idle existential question. I confess that lately this line of thinking has been causing me great grief. We have lived a several thousand years on this planet, done most of the things that there are to do and yet we are moving further. The pace of this movement is growing by the second which is uncanny because a majority of us are plagued with the problem of stagnation. The stagnation of our life, our thoughts and our purpose. Globalization, liberalization, commercialization, victimization, sensitization, civilization may have a meaning in theoretical context but offer us no real answers and definitely no respite as we are left to fend for our ourselves in a world clearly beyond our understanding with every passing minute. Half the world does not understand the other half while the scholars and philosophers talk about the great melting pots and megalopolises. One thing that is a constant in our urban middle class lives (because that is what most of us belong to and that is currently something I have a little understanding of) is a newspaper and we marvel at the information it sends our way. Is the world truly this bizzare? We wonder, every single day when we look at the newspaper. And every day we put it down we are left none the wiser. If our metros have become a great melting pot then we have become the stew of modern civilization, lost in its simplification. To this, comes the answer in Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
Walter Mitty is our usual middle class man, struggling with compromises and dubious life choices, dubious but necessary in contemporary circumstances. Walter Mitty fights everyday, fights the ennui that comes with recurrent boredom and dies a little every single day, when he loses a bit of himself in his untimely reveries. He needs a cushion in this world. He chooses a dream world to cope with the mind numbing routine that is life. He is our quintessential modern man. He goes to work every day, works diligently, takes his food on time, does a bit of awkward social networking and return home to his empty room and empty life. It does not matter whether he is single or married, gay or straight; it does not even matter whether he is a he. He is a prototype of our neo-urban lifestyle. A comma in a great book, a dry leaf in a park. He wishes to embark on a great many adventures, save a great many beautiful maidens, build a great many statues in their honor and save the world in the process. His inheritance is Robinson Crusoe, Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo and his future, bleak. He is a man so over burdened with the responsibility of being perfectly ordinary that he struggles to stay sane. Men, once fought to be extraordinary and sought escape from oblivion. Walter Mitty rushes towards it with open arms. He does it because he is a good man.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a reflection of our society’s preoccupation with normality and the ordinary. We are so overcome by the legacy of our ordinary behavior, that we rejoice in its illusory glitz. The precocious half-wits, the smartphones. the rampant social networking, the irony of appearing cool while pretending not to care, are one of its many reverberations.
There was a time we believed in discovery and the challenge of going into the unknown, and I don’t mean it as a strategy for product placement; something real and something dangerous, something we did not easily comprehend but tried to nonetheless. We were adamant, we were violent and we were brave. We were not the tragic men given in to a feeble modernity. We were fearless. We were free.
May be there is no predefined purpose to this life. May be we are all artists; some good and some bad. May be all of us have been handed over this strange canvas we call life. We can paint it whatever, whichever and however we want to. The only purpose for us is to look at it from time to time and smile.