If you haven’t seen The Secret Life of Walter Mitty–go watch it. I don’t think it’s a perfect movie but it does have a lot of perfect moments. In addition to having great photography and compositions, the movie does a great job of balancing between serious and funny. There were a lot of comedians in the movie and when I first realized this, I expected it to have an atmosphere similar to SNL or The Office. However, they surprised me. Ben Stiller and the other actors did a great job of containing the funny to make room for poignancy. Spoiler alert–now is your chance to stop reading to go find the movie online or rent it.
Okay, now really, the spoiler alert: There is a beautiful scene between Sean O’Connell (played by Sean Penn) and Walter Mitty (played by Ben Stiller). Walter had just found Sean (finally!) so he could ask him about the missing negative that Walter needs to produce the last print cover photo for Life magazine. Other contextual details get talked about in the scene–necessary exchanges between Sean and Walter about Life magazine and the missing negative for the photo. The beautiful thing: the script. The acting was great too–great delivery from Sean and Ben. But God, the script.
The amazing, larger-than-life photographer Sean O’Connell talked to Walter about the beauty of the snow leopard at the start of the scene and then later in the scene, cryptically uses the snow leopard as an analogy to describe the beauty of the missing negative. Only later on at the end of the movie does Walter realize that the photo was of himself.
Sean: They call the snow leopard the ghost cat–never lets itself be seen.
Walter: Ghost cat?
Sean: Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.
[More dialogue about Life magazine and how Walter has been looking for the missing negative. Also, touching lines about staying in the moment.]
Walter: What was the picture, Sean?
Sean: Let’s just call it a ghost cat, Walter Mitty.
The script goes beyond the topic of beauty. It’s also about self-discovery given the trasformation we see in Walter when he goes on a quest. Walter had started out as just some guy doing a regular “desk job.” He didn’t think he was interesting or worthy of anyone’s attention. Lacked confidence and often zones out to daydream. Got made fun of by douchebags at work. In his search for the negative and Sean, he jumps off a helicopter, battles a shark, skateboards towards a volcano, jumps in a car that races against the debris of a volcano, meets warlords, etc. All because he wanted to do his job as the negative asset manager at Life magazine (which by the way was going digital). In addition to the negative for the photo, we know that Walter is also searching for love and acceptance from a woman. We see this pursuit from his eHarmony subscription and dialogue with Todd, an eHarmony agent who helps Walter shape up his profile. In the end, Walter asks Todd to shut down his account despite receiving 300 winks in 2 hours (an improvement from his previous 0 winks). At the end of the movie, we are rewarded with the realization that the beautiful thing that deserved to be on the last print cover of Life magazine isn’t some landscape or person who isn’t out of our reach. It’s Walter! The reason can be interpreted in different ways but Sean O’Connell’s reason: Walter is a ghost cat. Never lets himself be seen. Cue hints: Walter is a negative asset manager, works in the dark room all the time, name not shown in issues except probably in tiny print on some obscure let’s-get-it-over-with page listing everyone else working at the magazine.
Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.