troperville

tools

toys


main index

Narrative

Genre

Media

Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
random
Film: The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty

"To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life."

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a film that was released on Christmas Day, 2013. Directed by and starring Ben Stiller, it tells the story of Walter Mitty, a simple man with an overactive imagination working at Life Magazine during a transition from print media to online media. He is tasked with prepping a certain picture to use for the cover of the last printed issue of the magazine, but in order to do so, he must hunt down the photographer, following eccentric clues while realizing how real life can be stranger than fiction.

The film is loosely inspired by the short story of the same name, written by James Thurber in 1939 and previously adapted (just as loosely) as a 1947 film starring Danny Kaye.

This film contains examples of:

  • Badass Creed: The LIFE magazine motto, which is the page quote.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Walter loses his job because of one mistake after 16 years of work, even after finding the negative, but he becomes immortalized as the cover of the final issue of LIFE Magazine. That, plus the fact that he now has one hell of a resume from his adventures means finding a new and more interesting job should not be a problem. It also turns out that Cheryl hasn't reunited with her husband, giving Walter a second chance with her. In fact, he asks her out and she says yes; they hold hands after seeing the final issue of Life and the cover photo as they walk away.
  • The Cameo: Sean Penn and Patton Oswalt each appear in one scene (though in both cases, their presence is felt in different ways throughout most of the movie leading up to that one scene).
  • Contrived Coincidence: The amount of things that would have had to happen just when they did for full dramatic effect stretches belief several times.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A wallet. A birthday toy. A Clementine cake. The tiniest items can have key significance at the right moment.
    • A drunk pilot's thumb and ring.
    • A skateboard.
    • A mother's habit of collecting mementos from her son.
    • A piano given by a father to a mother.
    • A friendship with a certain staff from eHarmony.
    • A Papa John's pizza place.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Walt's childhood skateboarding.
  • Conspicuous CG: The TSA x-ray screen is really cartoonish for something that's supposed to actually be happening.
  • Cool, but Inefficient: When Walter needs to get from one Icelandic town to another in a hurry, he resorts to longboarding down the highway. It's a very cool scene to watch, but one wonders why he didn't have the sense to ask the guy who gave him directions for a lift — especially since the guy arrives less than a minute behind him to save him from the volcanic eruption.
  • The Danza: Sean Penn as Sean O'Connell.
  • Diegetic Switch: When Walt isn't feeling up to riding the helicopter with a drunk pilot, he starts daydreaming that Cheryl is playing guitar on the stage at the bar, singing "Space Oddity". When he finally gets the resolve to hop into the helicopter, at the pivotal point in the song, it changes from Cheryl singing to the original version by Bowie.
  • Disappeared Dad: Walter's father died suddenly when he was 17, forcing him to become the primary bread-winner and alter his life course.
  • Drunk Driver: The helicopter pilot, who's already had more than a few by the time Walter meets him, announces he intends to "finish off" a towering beer boot before flying mail to a ship through a storm.
  • Exact Words: Subverted. New Boss Ted gets Walter to agree that the next time they see each other, Walter will have the missing negative. While Walter tries to adhere to the trope, he ultimately fails.
    • Played with in the phrase "the quintessence of life": Everyone assumes it's a photograph that poetically sums up all that it means to exist. The word "life" in the phrase actually refers to LIFE, the magazine.
  • Foreshadowing: Several of Walter's daydream sequences obliquely foreshadow later events in the movie:
    • The first one we see him have involves him outrunning a gas explosion in a building. In Iceland, he outruns an actual explosion — this time, caused by an erupting volcano.
    • Another involves him wooing Cheryl as a heroic explorer of a frozen, rugged landscape. He ends up trekking over frozen, rugged mountain ranges in Afghanistan.
    • He also has one where he gets into a lengthy, elaborate fist-fight with Ted. It's a lot less elaborate, but he does finally confront Ted at the end, with awesome results for Walter.
    • During one of their phone conversations, Todd from eHarmony happens to mention offhandedly that he lives and works in Los Angeles. This comes in handy when Walter is detained at Los Angeles airport and needs someone to vouch for him.
    • It's subtle, but when Walter comes back an visits his mother in her new home and throws away the wallet Sean gave him, she looks into the trash can to see what he threw away.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Walter is a hard working, financially responsible adult caring for his aging mother. His sister Odessa is an Adult Child who despite being in her late 30s/early 40s has no real career and is a hopeless mooch and generally immature (her idea of a perfect birthday present for her 42 year old brother is a Stretch Armstrong toy like the one they had as kids.)
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: When Walter checks his email at the end of the film and sees the message from Cheryl's son, we briefly see that his inbox also contains messages from the helicopter pilot and the fisherman he met in Greenland, as well as Todd from eHarmony.
  • Genre-Busting: The Other Wiki refers to it as "an American romantic adventure fantasy comedy-drama film". And it's sort of a feel-good inspirational film, too.
  • Genre Savvy: Cheryl mentions that in mystery stories, all the clues will eventually add up and the one odd clue will be something that was right in front of your face the whole time. She's right.
  • The Ghost: Sean O'Connell, the renowned, globe-trotting photographer, is only seen in a photograph, but his presence is mentioned throughout the movie. Walter gets a brief glimpse of him flying by atop a biplane near a volcano, but that's it. Until he comes upon him somewhere in the Himalayas, patiently camped on a rock, waiting for a snow leopard.
  • Good Old Ways: Sean embodies the best, coolest qualities of Old Media, while New Media is represented by tools like Ted (though there's also Todd from eHarmony, who seems pretty nice).
  • Hate Sink: Ted, the liquidation manager who is clearly going to fire Walter without ever realizing how important his work is, is still just there for the audience to despise. The real antagonist is Walter's boring life, which is so devoid of adventure that he keeps fleeing into daydreams.
  • Ironic Echo: "Frame that and put it on the wall at your next job."
  • It Was with You All Along: The missing photo from the reel that kicks off Walter's life-changing journey? It's tucked into the wallet Sean mails along as a personal gift to Walter. He throws the wallet away before he finds out where the negative is. Where is it then? It's with Walter's mom, who keeps all her son's old stuff as mementos and later gives it back to him.
  • Jerkass: Ted Hendricks makes a point of bullying Walter pretty much from when he first shows up, and is basically a vacuous and egotistical corporate tool.
  • Leno Device: A variation: when Walter thinks that Cheryl has a husband, he watches an episode of Conan playing on the TV in the taxi drive back home, and when he suddenly appears as the special guest on the show, the audience knows that he's lapsing back into zoning out.
  • The Load: Walter's sister, the "performance artist," seems to be more than a little bit useless at helping take care of their mother.
  • MacGuffin: Negative 25. Walt travels across the world to find the damned thing. Subverted, since we eventually see what the photo is.
  • Mean Boss: Ted Hendricks and his ilk are somewhere between this and Pointy-Haired Boss. They are needlessly callous, ignorant of specifics of the industry, and generally just empty, replaceable suits using people for whatever they can get out of them.
  • Missed Him by That Much: Sean always seems to be just right ahead of Walter, having left a place just before Walter arrives. Conversely, it seems Sean made a point of hovering near Walter in the weeks before his most recent trip abroad, without Walter even knowing.
  • Mr. Imagination: Walter has a habit of spacing out and having elaborate daydreams, often involving romancing Cheryl or beating up/humiliating Ted. Once he starts going on an actual adventure, his daydreams become less frequent.
  • New Media Are Evil: In general, the film treats LIFE Magazine's transition to online media as a bad thing, costing people their jobs and giving the reins of something sacred to many over to people portrayed as rather soulless.
  • Painting the Medium:
    • When Walter is being security searched after traveling to Ungoverned Afghanistan, the film shows an aggressive pat down (and resulting fight and arrest) as if the viewer were looking at the scene through an x-ray screening machine.
    • Also, once Walter starts using his old travel journal, his writings appear blown up large across the screen. When altitude sickness sets in, the letters start drifting away in the wind.
    • The LIFE magazine motto appears over various parts of the scenery as Walter is travelling to Greenland.
    • And when Walter gets a text from Hernando towards the end of his trip in Iceland, the message appears superimposed on a mountain in the background.
  • Product Placement: Of an extreme magnitude. Papa John's and eHarmony got their own subplots, the latter of which took up the first scene in the movie, and the main plot is about the magazine LIFE. McDonald's, Cinnabon, Google, Instagram and Facebook also get name-checked.
  • The Real Heroes: Sean's final cover photo for LIFE, his "quintessence," is revealed to be a picture of Walter looking at negatives, dedicated to all the unseen workers that made the magazine possible.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Walter delivers a calm one to Ted when delivering negative #25 to him, basically pointing out that while his job may involve large-scale downsizing of businesses and firing of employees, he doesn't have to be such a dick about it.
  • Ridiculously Average Guy: The best way to describe Walter at the beginning of the movie is, well, bland.
    • That is, until by the end of his journey, Todd calls Walter a replica of Indiana Jones who decided to be the lead singer of The Strokes.
  • Scenery Porn: Parts of the movie take place in both Iceland and Greenland, so this is a given. Hell, the trailers themselves gave off this vibe.
    • We later get some scenes of Afghanistan and the Himalayas.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: The movie itself isn't really this, since it's more about Walter searching for and finding more excitement and meaning in his life, but the search for Negative 25 becomes this when Walter learns from Sean that it was in the wallet that Sean gave him the whole time.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Sean O'Connell only gets two scenes worth of screentime, but he plays a huge role in the larger plot with Negative #25.
  • Super Cell Reception: No matter where he goes, as high and remote as the Himalayas, Walt is always receiving phone calls from Todd on his flip-phone with perfect clarity. Even after the thing was in the Atlantic Ocean! note . But those roaming charges are gonna suuuuuuck.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Walter goes from a mild-mannered employee of LIFE magazine with an overactive imagination to an actual globetrotting adventurer. Todd even states that while he originally just envisioned him as an ordinary office drone, he now see Walter as an Indiana Jones-like figure.
    • And now, along with the skills, professionalism and hardworking attitude he got from having had to work at the age of 17 after his dad passed away, he's developed an attitude where he's willing to go out his comfort zone and be adventurous and willing to take necessary risks. With the talking to he gave to Ted at the end as well as asking out Cheryl to watch his sister's play with him, he's also grown to be more confident.
  • Truth in Television: LIFE Magazine did in fact switch to an online format in 2009. The website transitioned to a photo-only section of TIME Magazine's website in 2012, while special photographic releases (usually about Jesus, English royalty, or year end best-of lists) appear in supermarkets to this day.
  • Voice with an Internet Connection: Todd, from eHarmony. Until he meets Walter at LAX and buys him a Cinnabon.
  • White Collar Worker: While working in a somewhat technical field (managing film negatives), Walter's job squarely fits in this role. He certainly lives the private life of one.
  • The World Is Just Awesome: Downhill skateboarding in Iceland, just miles from an active volcano; jumping from a helicopter into freezing, shark-infested waters; seeing a rare snow leopard peek out from a ridge and bare its teeth. Yeah, the world is awesome.
    Sean O'Connell: "Sometimes I just like to watch...without the lens."
Saving Mr. BanksFilms of the 2010sSexy Evil Genius

random
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from thestaff@tvtropes.org.
Privacy Policy
24603
44