“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a piece so deeply knit into the culture that even many people who have not read the short story could tell you that it is about a very average Joe who flees his banal existence through a trapdoor of the imagination. James Thurber’s 1939 tale is a model of economy, a portrait of a hapless man who cycles through heroic fantasies as he goes about the quotidian business of his day.”
We relate to Mitty because most of us spend a great deal of our energy fleeing the reality of our suffering through the trapdoors of distraction and fantasy. The present moment is not an experience often chosen by most of us. The Simple Reality of our natural state reveals itself only in momentary flashes if at all.
Ben Stiller the director of the film explains Mitty’s behavior. “I think people will connect with the idea that what is inside him is trying to get out; that he is trying to become who he should be somehow.” There it is. That’s the human condition.
Life is not a photo-shoot but taking of digital photographs has become such a universal activity among people of all ages. Stiller observes: “On the Internet, the photo just becomes almost something that validates an experience.” Are we so busy recording what we are seeing that we miss the experience of actually being in the present moment, of actually living our life? Our life becomes a story in our mind illustrated by our “vault” of photos which rarely becomes a “felt” experience only an intellectual one.
While we hang off the platform of the caboose snapping the passing scenery, the narrative in our mind streaks across the landscape of our life; no engineer, no itinerary, the guilt, shame and regret of our yesterday’s clacking toward anxieties of our terrifying tomorrows. This is the nitty gritty of Walter Mitty and we can only hope our gallery of photos will reveal that we actually lived life. It won’t!
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.