As with all movies on this website, our goal is not to provide a complete synopsis of the film, but rather to document how the movie relates to the meaning of life. With that said, be forewarned, there are still spoilers ahead.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a 2013 comedy-drama film directed by and starring Ben Stiller. The movie is about a negative assets manager at Life magazine that lives an uneventful life. He hasn't done anything remarkable, hasn't traveled, and is single. Living a life of little to no significance, he can't even complete his eHarmony profile. But, Walter has a big imagination and often zones out so to speak.
However, he is a life-long associate of Sean O'Connell a famous recluse and photographer who only trusts Walter with his work. Life magazine is on the verge of closing its print division and is going exclusively online. The team is gearing up for the last edition while many are laid off (including Walter).
Sean has finally shot his best photo ever, the quintessence of life. But there is only one problem, Walter either lost the negative or Sean never sent it, or so Walter thinks. In the same package in which Sean sent the negative is a wallet with the following quote inscribed:
To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.
Walter is determined to find the photo at all costs. So he sets off on a journey to Greenland not knowing exactly where Sean is—Greenland leads to Iceland, and wouldn't you know it, soon enough Yemen leads to Afghanistan.
Eventually, Walter finds Sean and tells him how the negative was lost. Sean tells him that he had put it in the wallet that he sent along with the rest of the negatives. Walter, angry, tells him that he chucked the wallet.... Sean explains that he left a note for Walter to look within, but, Walter thought that meant within himself ... not within the wallet. So, Walter trucks back home only to find out that his mother saved the wallet and the negative is found. What is on the negative? Walter no longer cares even to look. He takes the negative to Life magazine and leaves without ever looking.
As it would turn out, it was a picture of Walter working. The quintessence of life as Sean put it. The hard truth though is that many of us live paycheck to paycheck (we see this throughout the film with Walter's detailed accounting and needing to sell his father's piano after his trip).
One of the best scenes is when Walter and Sean finally meet in person in the Himalayas. Sean finally spots the scarce snow leopard, perhaps a once in a life time opportunity, and yet doesn't snap a photo, stating to Walter:
Sometimes I don't (take the shot). If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don't like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.
Living in the moment, getting the most out of it. That is an important lesson for Walter.
What is this movie telling us about the meaning of life? On the surface it is about taking risks and going on adventures—not just daydreaming them. Underneath there is a back story of romance and love—a man too scared to take the risk of even winking at a woman online that he works with. Reviewing Sean's quote one more time, it echoes the above. Adventure, shared existence, and to feel—to live in the moment. But wait, there's more. What Sean captures in his photo shows that Walter Mitty, the man who dreams big, actually lives a pretty significant life. He was part of something great, Life magazine. And he captures the quintessence of human existence in that one epic shot that becomes the final cover of Life magazine.
We rate the movie as follows:
Overall - 8
Meaning of Life Relevance - 6
Uniqueness – 5
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