I have never been accused of not having an overactive imagination. So, as a kid, when I read James Thurber’s classic short story, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, its message resonated thoroughly in my adolescent noggin. (As I have told you previously, I spent many a summer day ensconced within the confines of my handmade treehouse, high above the ground, reading and rereading my favorite books.)
The idea that a person could imagine any scenario at all, and then make it come true was almost more than my fertile mind could handle. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. I crossed more deserts, rode more freight trains, and sailed more seas than even a boy of 10 had a right to. But as time passed, the boy grew up and the dreams faded—until a few nights ago, when I learned that Walter Mitty was alive and well—sort of.
To my delight, I happened upon a TV presentation of a movie called (drum roll) The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Filmmaker Ben Stiller, always a favorite of mine, acted in and directed the film, released in 2013 and based loosely on the Thurber short story. I loved it! What surprised me, however, was how poorly the film was received. To say the critics were unkind is an understatement. My intention here is not to review the film, however, but to make some basic observations.
This is a true “feel good” movie, one that seeks to celebrate the good found in the common man, much like another favorite of mine, The Truman Show. It, too, was lambasted by the critics. Why do we no longer find films like these appealing? When did we become so cynical as a society that morality no longer matters?
Today, the majority of films and TV shows glorify, even proselytize violence and immoral behavior. It’s hard to find a movie devoid of murder, mayhem, and evil. We’ve become desensitized to all of it. The worse the characters and their behavior, the more we like them. The current presidential campaign is just a reflection of our entertainment preferences. It’s no wonder we find ourselves once again voting for the lesser of two evils.
But just imagine if you will, what our world could be like if only we were more like Walter Mitty. I know it’s just a dream, but can you imagine it? Turn off the TV, pick up a copy of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and dream. Use your imagination. Maybe, just maybe, we can turn it around.