Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Secret Ending of Walter Mitty

I’ve often raved about a movie I once called my favorite, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (SPOILER ALERT). But now that I’m back I’ve taken a closer look at it, and I’m not so sure it’s my favorite anymore. I never liked the “man gets the woman just for finishing his quest” narrative, though Secret Life does it more gently than most American films. But what really gets me is the impression that he goes back to his normal life. I’m sure his secret life has changed him in subtle ways, but the movie ends with him updating his resume and holding hands with Cheryl. Maybe that’s what the movie is really trying to say: “adventure and human connection are more important than capitalism --” and that narrative I agree with -- but Walter doesn’t manage to build a life for himself through his adventure. He gets back, writes “fought a shark” on his resume, asks out Cheryl, sees a picture of his old life, and then the credits roll.

But what happens then!?

We hope Walter is different. We hope his old type of job -- of staying in one place and not really connecting with people -- won’t satisfy him. We hope he’s learned that a woman you “win” by going on a quest is one who is a little shallow. We hope he’s not admiring that photo of his old life, but accepting that it’s part of the past, and knowing that he’s different now.

Here’s what I think could happen. I think Walter starts to stand up for himself and what he wants. I think he stops settling. And I think that has far-reaching impacts in all his relationships and his career prospects. I think he fights with people he once got along with. I think he makes a few mistakes and enters back into his old habits sometimes, but catches himself and confronts the people who put him there.

And I think those confrontations are some of the ugliest and most painful of his life. Because he is still trying to figure out who he is, and being vulnerable around judgemental, self-centered people when you are trying to figure out who you are can be absolutely devastating.

I think this new Walter is much more likeable than the old one. The next movie doesn’t start with Walter getting endorsements from his favorite photographer, from his sister, from his mom. The bad guy isn’t someone who threatens to fire him. We like Walter because he knows he’s fallible. We like Walter because he struggles. And the bad guy is himself. The bad guy is complacency, and anger, and his inability to summon compassion for the people who have hurt him. The bad guy is the voice that tells him to chase after the people who treat him like the old Walter. Because being treated that way is comfortable. It’s safe. And it’s unhealthy.

Walter has figured out who he is. Now he needs to figure out how that person operates in the larger context of society. He needs to figure out who his friends are, who his lover(s?) are. We don’t know what happens after Walter leaves that magazine on the stand. But I like to think he’s leaving his old life behind. I like to think he’s headed towards something better.


  1. That's Hollywood for you, shallow like much of western society

  2. Best of luck to Walter and hope he’s out there somewhere, writing his way through it in whatever way works for him :)