The Secret Life Of Introverts (And Walter Mitty)

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a Negative Asset Manager at Life Magazine in New York. He lives a quiet existence of carefully cataloguing and processing photographs, a monotony that he escapes with vivid daydreams so consuming that he completely tunes out the world around him while lost in his fantasies. On the same day that Walter learns that Life Magazine’s new owners are wrapping up the print edition and going online, he receives a roll of film from famed photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) with a note saying that image #25 on the roll should be the cover of the final issue. Unfortunately, #25 is missing from the negative so Walter sets out to track down O’Connell in the hopes of finding the photograph.

Ben Stiller The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty

Stiller’s film is adapted from a short story that was previously brought to the screen in the 1947 movie starring Danny Kaye. The fantasy elements dominate the first chunk but as Walter sets out on his mission to find the missing negative, he slowly stops daydreaming and becomes immersed in the world around him. At the start, Walter is very much an introvert. He is quiet, struggles with small talk and idle chitchat but has a vibrant inner life that is invisible to the people around him. He has a crush on a co-worker at Life Magazine, Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) but struggles to reach out to her socially and becomes the butt of jokes from Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), the corporate shark sent in to oversee the buyout of Life and the laying off of staff.

Introverts are a rare breed in the movies, where extroverts are the norm. Quiet people are generally shown as being either creepy or as someone who needs to ‘come out of their shell’ (a phrase every introvert will have heard all too often). In a pleasant surprise, Stiller’s movie avoids the temptation to transform Walter from introvert to social butterfly. Certainly, he becomes more confident as his adventure unfolds, but he remains softly spoken and unassuming. His understated progression is expressed through the development of his online dating profile. At the outset, he has left most of his profile blank, believing he has not been anywhere or done anything interesting but his globe-trotting quest to track down O’Connell slowly but surely changes his mind as he realises his own worth. It’s refreshing to see a film in which the protagonist’s development, his coming into his own, is not linked with a change in their personality but instead with a greater sense of self-acceptance.

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The plot twist concerning the location of the missing negative is easy to see coming well in advance, but that’s not the point of the movie. It’s not about ‘Where’s the missing photograph?’ It’s about Walter embracing the opportunities he encounters and reaching out to the people that he meets. It could be argued he is coming out of his shell, but perhaps he is simply taking his shell out to see the world.

The often elaborate fantasy sequences seem like Stiller has made a proof of concept reel to demonstrate he can handle special effects and spectacle, as if he’s auditioning to direct a superhero blockbuster for next summer. However while Walter’s daydreams are fun – the Benjamin Button parody is spot on – the story resonates most powerfully when Walter is doing not dreaming. The relationship with Cheryl is handled with a refreshing low-key approach for a Hollywood movie – there’s no heavy handed melodrama or overblown true romance in their scenes together. Stiller’s performance is naturalistic, with none of the outlandish caricatures of Zoolander or Dodgeball, and similarly Wiig is charming without needing to be zany.

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The locations and photography are beautiful – well worth seeing on a big screen – and in contrast to Stiller’s earlier film The Cable Guy which offered a more cynical, twisted take on the world, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty exudes warmth, optimism and a wide-eyed wonder at the possibilities that Life can offer when least expected. And introverts rule. They just don’t like to talk about it.

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3 Responses to “The Secret Life Of Introverts (And Walter Mitty)”

  1. aworldoffilm Says:

    Hello.
    Nice post, I like your blog.

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  2. Dangerous Meredith Says:

    I haven’t seen this film yet, but I do like what you say about how introverts are portrayed in film (being one, I suppose). Thanks for the review.

  3. Jim Nunley Says:

    Nice article. I saw it last night and googled Walter Mitty introvert and this came up. I think the movie shows how an introvert can be moved to action when they have a purpose, a love or are inspired to do something big.

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