The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is one of the best, and often underrated, travel-films. Directed by and starring Ben Stiller, based on the book by John Thurber of the same name, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is one of the films that truly spurred on my wanderlust.
The film tells the story of an average man named Walter Mitty. Walter lives quite a dull life, working as the Negative Assets Manager at Life Magazine. Once a young lad with ambitions to travel the world and experience real adventure, the death of his father puts a dent in his motivation and dreams. Instead he becomes a man with little to show for his life, instead compensating for chances not taken by ‘zoning out’ and daydreaming about the absurdest of situations.
As Life Magazine begins is transfer online, a team of corporate shills is employed to monitor the transition and sack all employees that would no longer have a place in the company’s future. It falls upon Walter to develop the photo for the cover of the last ever published magazine, referred to as the ‘quintessence’ by Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), a photojournalist and adventurer freelancing for Life. When Walter and his partner see that the photo in question is missing, he embarks on the adventure he never explored to track down Sean and the missing photograph.
Walter’s adventure leads him to great unknowns, ticking off things that we can only dream to put on our bucket list. He follows Sean’s trail to remote Greenland before going to Iceland and later the Himalayas. Throughout the film a man named Todd from the dating site E-Harmony calls him to help him fill out his ‘been there, done that section’. These recurring phone calls symbolise Walter’s evolution as he goes from a man that has experienced nothing, to one that his discovered himself. His profile quickly gains attention as he adds diving out of a helicopter into shark-infested waters, escaping an erupting Icelandic volcano, and climbing the Himalayas to his experience. Circumstance forces Walter to live, travel, and discover, and as he does, his daydreams begin to fade.
If you look at reviews for this film they are quite mixed, often polarised between those who loved it and those that thought it nothing special. I must say that I thought it to be truly inspiring. Of course it wasn’t perfect and there are many things that could have been done differently, but none of that really matter because the movie provides an amazingly inspirational ‘feel’ paralleled only by Into the Wild.
The reason this film hit home with me is that Ben Stiller’s character exists in each and every one of us. We always go through phases where we prefer to cower in the comfort of our repetitive lives, but it is the moments where we decide to leave our comfort zone and discover something truly new an unique that we have the most unforgettable experiences. The story of Walter really places travel at the centre of adventurous experience, which is what I crave the most. It is the very reason Wayfaring Student exists. Walter was this shell of a man; the kind of person nobody really notices or cares about. But when he embarks on his travels he discovers himself and shows his true potential. That is what makes this film so touching. Add to that the beautiful scenery throughout the film and you find yourself with an urge to book the first flight out as soon as you reach the credits.
At the end of the day, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is an inspirational feel-good movie. It might have some silly moments and product-placements, but none of that matters because Ben Stiller truly captures the essence of travel. It’s about spontaneity, adventure, discovery, and most importantly, should searching.