The Secret Life of Walter Mitty starring Ben Stiller came out a while back. I watched it. Five times. I cried. Five times. It’s a beautiful story of a man lost in his own imagination. Missing out on real life from time to time due to his passion for his work and his ironic ability to zone out – dreaming up the most extreme and exciting versions of his reality while the world around him keeps turning.
I love this story.
I had no idea that it was based on a five page short story written by James Thurber in 1939 (it first appeared in The New Yorker on March 18th) and adapted into a movie starring Danny Kaye (probably best known today for his role in White Christmas) in 1947. I discovered the short story last week at work, and while reading it on lunch this afternoon got in a conversation about its history and development with a fellow co-worker. Apparently Thurber greatly disliked that original film, but I still find myself wanting to watch it so I may do a comparison myself. His complaint on the ’47 film was that it had nothing to do with the story he wrote.
Thurber died in 1963, so we will never truly know what he thinks of the Ben Stiller version – but I’d like to think that the screenwriters did the best they could off such a smidgen of a scene presented by Thurber. Even though in Thurber’s short, Mitty is married and disappearing in his mind to avoid mundane activities his wife presents as necessary, and the 2013 film is mainly about Mitty getting the girl. The common thread is the mental escape from reality spawned from a small detail in the character’s presence, a rich imagination, a desire in Mitty to not be oppressed by the world around him and instead thrive as a hero.
As a writer, often caught lost in thought, this story – in all its versions – appeals to me.