Hunting for the Perfect Photo – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
I’ve just now come across this movie by and with Ben Stiller which premiered almost exactly five years ago. I was quite taken with the story about the hunt for the perfect photograph.
Originally a short story written in 1939 by the American author James Thurber, the movie tells the story of Walter Mitty (Stiller) who daydreams most of his adventures while actually working as a negative assets manager (the person who looks after, catalogues and archives negatives of photographs) at Life Magazine. He previously worked closely with photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) who, upon the conversion of the magazine to a solely online publication, sends Walter Mitty his most recent negatives. Negative no. 25 of the collection is meant to be the last printed edition’s cover. He calls it »the quintessence of life«. Only… number 25 is missing.
So Now What?
Now Mitty is sent on a wild goose chase to find O’Connell, who constantly travels the world on his mission to take photos. Having previously dreamt more than actually done anything exciting Mitty follows the leads the other negatives deliver and does indeed venture some interesting paths. Of course a love story is woven in along the way and the fact that the corporate transition manager is constantly breathing down Mitty’s neck gives the movie a certain edge. However, it’s not an action movie or an Indiana Jones adventure – even though Mitty is compared to the movie hero at one point. Much more it is Ben Stiller from his more reflective side (although I really enjoyed his early 2000s comedy).
If you read this and want to watch the movie – go ahead! If not, or if you want to know a little more, here come the spoilers:
on his search for O’Connell, Mitty looks closely at three of the photos. The first one of the ocean surface leads him to Greenland. There he finds the guy whose thumb with a unique ring is in the second photo. This guy is heavily drunk and the pilot of the helicopter that can take him to the ship O’Connell left on. After a rough flight, a jump into the ocean and a fight against a shark, Mitty, aboard the ship, learns that the photographer already left. However, he finds another clue leading him to Iceland where O’Connell is about to photograph a volcano (remember Eyjafjallajökull, the name no one could pronounce back in 2010? That’s the one!). After an exciting run / bike / longboard ride across the island he is forced to leave because the volcano erupts.
As a result he returns home feeling dishearted. In conversation with his mother (Shirley MacLaine) he notices that the third photograph was taken at her home and thus learns his hero has travelled to the Himalayas. After a long hike he finds O’Connell observing a snow leopard (but not taking the photo!). The photographer explains that the negative of no. 25 was inside the wallet that he gave Mitty as a gift along with the other negatives. Sillily enough Mitty tossed the wallet out of frustration when talking to his mother.
It wouldn’t be Hollywood if momma hadn’t saved the wallet in order for Mitty to finally have his victorious end. But the whole act is seemlessly woven into the little character trait of mom keeping all her son’s knick-knacks. So it’s not too far fetched.
So what was image no. 25? I won’t tell!
But finally, I can say that it’s a nice act of friendship, partnership and fine observation skills. Which is what I liked most about the movie – the little details, the imagination and the dreaminess that shape it. Furthermore the locations are beautifully captured on film. Especially Iceland looks amazing!
||Directed by Ben Stiller