What can Walter Mitty teach us about life?
by Kate Neligan
The feel-good movie of the last year was most definitely The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. When was the last time you daydreamed about having superhero powers or pictured getting the guy (or girl)? Walter Mitty, played by Ben Stiller, daydreams all the time until he shifts his fantasies into reality.
This movie starts off as a “romcom,” moves into a mystery, and then takes us on an epic adventure. I love that the film is beautiful, well-cast, and PG rated. Rarely do we see films where the whole family can go together and all feel happy about their cinematic choice. As soon as the credits started to roll I heard a young girl exclaim to her Dad, “That was an amazing movie!” The cinematography alone is worth a trip to the theatre but the quirky characters, music, love story, life lessons, and charitable marketing all make the film unique.
20th Century Fox did something extraordinary with this film’s marketing: they let a popular videographer take their entire promotional video budget ($25,000) and give it to the Philippines for disaster relief. Their journey to “create dreams” is documented here. While some have criticized this type of agenda-based marketing, I’m grateful to see a major movie studio participate in social good. As we all know, so much money is thrown at celebrities in Hollywood, but what about the people who truly need it? Having worked on over six charitable film marketing campaigns while at Lionsgate, including an “Inner Preciousness Tour” for the film Precious, I am happy to see others stepping up to a pay-it-forward model of giving and marketing.
We are headed towards a gifting economy so I applaud Fox for being a visionary in this space and focusing on the trip bottom line which includes people and the planet, in addition to profit.
Sometimes the best part of movies is that we can vicariously experience the characters’ transformation and this film delivers that and more. You can’t help but smile, laugh, and even go “ouch” and “ahhh” out loud during this film. You feel that you’re on the same journey as Walter when his story takes him to Greenland, Iceland and the Himalayan Mountains in search of a missing negative from a famous photographer, Sean O’Connell (played by Sean Penn), for the last issue of Life magazine.
Walter had plans for his life when he was a teenager. He had a backpack, travel journal and was ready to set out to see the world while sporting his Mohawk and skateboard, but then his father died and he went to work to help pay the bills for his family. His life changed and he lost sight of his dreams and his passions. However, his life begins to change when Sean serves as a catalyst for him to start living his dreams.
I love metaphors and there are two brilliant ones in the film. The first is the obvious connection that Walter works for Life magazine and yet doesn’t have much of a life himself. He is deeply insecure even though he fantasizes a big life where he feels important and full of confidence. As Life magazine is about to end, Water’s life is about to start. As he is forced to find a film negative, he is forced to find himself. The film explores the meaning of life in a fresh perspective. It exhilarates and thrills while simultaneously being deep and thoughtful.
The second metaphor comes from the character Sean when he talks about the elusive snow leopard that he is photographing. He says that this “ghost cat” doesn’t want to be seen. In many ways Walter is like a ghost cat. He works in a basement lab all day taking care of the photos for the cover of the magazine and even his online dating profile isn’t seen by any women. In the last few scenes of the film everything changes and we see how powerful this metaphor of the ghost cat really is to Walter, and to any of us who are also hiding out in our comfort zones.
What did you want to do as a teenager that you lost sight of when you either had to work or go to college? What is your biggest dream?Tags: 20th Century Fox, Ben Stiller, Charitable marketing, Follow your dreams, Hollywood, Inspiration, Inspirational film, Kate Neligan, Life affirming film, Philippines disaster relief, Romantic comedy, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty