I watched for the third time The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), loosely based on James Thurber’s story. It is a truly wonderful movie. There’s so much in it to like, but I’ll focus on Ben Stiller’s and Kristen Wiig’s jobs at Life magazine as it’s about to meet its end.
I had an intensely emotional encounter with an iconic photo in Life. While in college on a visit back home in the 80s, I was digging through a box of my parents’ issues of the magazine. I came across one from 1972 which featured the horrific image of Kim Phuc, the shrieking young Vietnamese girl running with napalm burning her skin.
The agony of the little girl gripped my heart, and I was moved to bitter tears. I was reminded again of the insane uselessness of the war. I wasn’t ready for the waves of sadness I felt. Understand, I don’t blame the soldiers who were sucked into a war the politicians masterminded. It was a bloody waste of lives for everyone—not to mention the environmental destruction that was left in its wake.
But back to the movie! It’s a high moment (in my humble opinion) in the careers of Stiller and Wiig, even if the film is overlooked by the “experts.” The movie has such an understated sense of humor.
There are moments of awesome beauty. Stiller tracks down Sean Penn as Sean O’Connell, an almost-legendary photographer. He wants to know what happened to a particular negative of a shot he took. He winds up in the Himalayas, where Penn is stalking a snow leopard. The two wait in silence as the cat reveals itself. He doesn’t take the picture. He says to Stiller, “Sometimes I don’t. 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.” He says, “Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.”
Maybe that would be a good tag line for the movie!
Oh, and how can you not like Patton Oswalt as the eHarmony guy?