Secret Life of Walter Mitty – Christian Movie Review!
Besides the city where he lives, the only place where Walter Mitty has been is Phoenix, Arizona. Oh, and he once visited Nashville — the airport in Nashville, to be exact — on the way to Phoenix. To say the least, Walter Mitty, an expert of photography negative management for Time Life magazine, lives a very mundane existence. To compensate, he often “zones out” and drifts into vivid daydreams of heroism, daring adventure, and romance. However, life finally opens a door of opportunity for real adventure when a crucial photo negative goes missing and threatens his job and the jobs of his friends. Against every instinct he has, he sets out int
o the great unknown to retrieve the negative from the adventure photographer who took it.
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance…
Sexual Content: Nothing visual. No physically intimate scenes between characters — not even kissing. There is a passing reference to a certain group of men wanting to go to a strip club in one line of dialogue and a general, non-crude reference to sex in another line. This movie stays within its PG boundaries.
Violence/Gore: A character gets in a fist fight in an elevator. A few cuts and bruises are shown during the fight, and the violence is somewhat realistic and jarring — much closer to an action movie than slapstick violence. A character jumps through a window though he is not hurt. A drunk man shoves another man.
Language: One s-word, one a-word, and two insults using crude slang terms for male body parts (i.e. the d-word).
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: A minor character (not one of the main actors) drinks beer and gets drunk.
Frightening/Intense Content: A character is attacked by what appears to be a great white shark. This scene is mildly intense, but nothing traumatic. There’s also a pulse-racing scene involving a volcano. It might be scary for younger children — so don’t take kids who are still in the G-rated spectrum of age — but the intense action scenes are thrilling for everyone else. The volcano scene was especially cool (and convincing!).
Entertainment Value and Film Craft
This film is a remake of a 1947 film of the same name, which was an adaption of one of the most famous short stories in American literature — also of the same name — written by James Thurber in 1939. Ben Stiller stars and directs the film with a well-chosen cast that includes big names like Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, the legendary Shirley MacLain, and Adam Scott of Parks and Rec fame. It has clearly been a good year for Kristen Wiig; she currently stars in two feature films that are playing in theaters right now — Anchorman 2 and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty — and she starred in Despicable Me 2 earlier in the year.
First off, please know right away that this movie is not a zany Ben Stiller comedy like his classic Zoolander or a fluffy family popcorn movie like Night in the Museum. It’s a quest movie. It has more in common with Lord of the Rings or Indiana Jones than with Zoolander, frankly. It’s deep and emotionally powerful. Stiller did an incredible job in the director’s chair. I truly hope he directs more movies. I loved how he summarized certain plot points with brief, creative visuals — like the airport x-ray scanner scene — to keep the movie’s pace brisk. He also adds his classic awkward deadpan humor to the starring role and, as the director, he uses his perfect comedic timing to deliver quite a few laugh-out-loud moments — especially the utterly hilarious Benjamin Button parody scene that had most of the theater rolling with loud laughter. But, for the most part, it is a two-hour quest movie that, despite the thrilling adventure scenes and humor, is deeply grounded in the internal transformation of Walter Mitty as a person. The critics who didn’t like it said it wasn’t substantive enough. They’re wrong. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll know that the movie portrays his vivid daydreams with action-packed fireworks on-screen; but these are not gags. They have a purpose. They put you in the shoes of Walter Mitty so you have a sense of how frustrating and dejecting it is to be in his situation. It’s a wonderful set-up for the grand adventure that unfolds, and it makes you feel Walter Mitty’s transformation as if it were happening to you.
As a guy, I couldn’t help but notice how this movie powerfully captures a sense of longing that (I believe) portrays God’s design in masculinity. I’m talking about the passage from boyhood to manhood — the trials and testings that define true masculinity from a Biblical perspective: selflessness and sacrifice even to the point of death, unswerving integrity and loyalty to family and “fellow soldiers,” obedience to a higher calling from God, a burning desire to succeed and do a job well whatever that job may be, and — especially in the context of this movie — courage and the willingness to take dangerous risks for the sake of a purpose that is bigger than yourself.
In Walter Mitty’s case, he is trying to recover something of great value not only to save his job, but to save the jobs of his co-workers, to make the magazine that employs him as excellent as possible, and to honor the legendary work of his friend and colleague Sean O’Connell. He has clearly poured his heart and soul into his job, and he has been diligent to do it to the best of his ability for almost two decades. Sure there is also a strong element of romance in there, but that just touches on even deeper desire in Walter’s heart that is common to all guys: to be seen as a hero in the eyes of the woman he loves and to be respected by her.
Whether or not you connect with its portrayal of the masculine identity, in Walter Mitty we find a person with whom we can all relate: he knows he is lacking something in his life, and he has a deep longing to find whatever that thing is. But, unlike many other Hollywood movies, the force that pushes Walter Mitty out the helicopter to plunge into the ocean is not an “it’s all about me” mentality of self-discovery and navel gazing. He’s risking life and limb for the sake of his co-workers and friends, and he’s doing it to be an excellent employee with integrity who doesn’t break his promises to his boss — even if that boss is a total jerk.
There’s much to admire in this movie. Although the name of Jesus is never mentioned, there are quite a few Christ-like qualities portrayed by Walter Mitty as he leaves his safe cocoon to embark on a great adventure. In addition to that, the film’s PG rating makes it a safe movie for the family, except for any younger children who haven’t graduated from the G-rated world.
There is something from the world of literature that speaks volumes about what makes this movie interesting. Fiction books can be categorized as either “genre fiction” — i.e. books with neat categories like romance, steam punk, mystery, fantasy — or “literary fiction,” which are books that approach writing as complex art. Genre fiction tends to place the important events of the plot on the surface action: a high-speed car chase, a diamond heist, a championship football game, etc. Literary fiction places the progression of the plot beneath the surface, usually within the internal thoughts and emotions of a character. In this sense, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty functions as literary fiction for the big screen. Sure, it has plenty of exciting Hollywood action scenes and sweeping epic shots in exotic locations, but the beating heart of the movie — and really the greatest moments of tension, climax, and resolution — happen in the mind and heart of Walter Mitty.
And, if you’re able to invest your emotions in his journey as a person — and not just in his adventure — then Walter Mitty will inspire you, challenge you, and remind you why it’s worth it to take risks in life.
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