Why I Drink, Literary Edition: Ben Stiller Remaking Walter Mitty
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a short story, later expanded into a novel, which many of you are probably at least vaguely familiar with. It seems to be frequently read early in high school, on the same syllabus that tosses kids Romeo and Juliet and the like. It was adapted in 1947 into a film now considered to be a classic, though I can’t attest to it first hand because I’m a very naughty film writer. I could lie and say that it’s on my NetFlix queue, but really, we all know that’s nothing but “NCIS” and “Magnum PI.”
The short story is of course about a certain Walter Mitty, a sad little everyman who sustains his dreary life through constant day dreams. That’s the surface tale, the bit of humorous indulgence that makes the story palatable for barbaric thirteen year olds. He’s a pilot! He’s a pirate! He’s a robber!* But the lasting appeal of the story is in that second level, the dark and cynical level. Even in Mitty’s dreams, he never wins. No matter the magnificent life he paints for himself, it always ends in failure, just like his real life does. There’s a heartbreaking undercurrent to the story, the notion that we cannot escape who we are, even in the comforts of our fantasy.
Of course, Ben Stiller is now on board as both actor and director for a new adaptation of the story. So, this fantastic meditation on the purgatory of modern man will be reduced to a series of vignettes cut and pasted from Stiller’s catalog of indistinguishable crap. From a certain point of view, Stiller is perfect for this project, because the story maps onto the story of his career. He’s a model! He’s a security guard! His last name is Focker! No matter what the budget for his dream, he fails in the end. Ben Stiller is Walter Mitty.
* I don’t actually remember if he imagines himself in these particular roles. It’s called hyperbole. If it makes you less likely to raise shrill protests of my profound ignorance, think of this as an attempt to avoid spoiling a 70 year old story.
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