Based on the short story written in 1939 by James Thurber, this is the story of a man who spends his time daydreaming of all sorts of amazing exploits and adventures, but in real life never does anything. Mr. Thurber was ahead of his time with this story, being a pointed comment on the reality of our time. Most of us create fantastic lives on Facebook and Twitter, and the imaginary sense that we are actually connecting with others in a meaningful way when in fact, we rarely connect on a personal level at all, or seek action and adventure playing computer games which give us the thrill of doing something heroic with our lives, But the truth is, many of us, especially the younger generation, don't do anything at all.
The movie is exceptional, and I highly recommend seeing it while it's in theaters. The cinematography is stunning, with beautiful shots of Iceland, Greenland and the Himalayas filling the screen with a vibrant wildness that is breathtaking. In contrast, Ben Stiller, playing the lead character Walter Mitty is very ordinary, and so bland to the point of almost fading into the background. Other characters of note are the romantic role of fantasy girlfriend Cheryl Melhoff, played by Kristen Wig, and the mom Edna Witty played by Shirley MacLaine. Wig's character offers the only well-rounded fullness of personality and charm. Her performance stands out colored by humor, compassion, worry and love of her son. Shirley MacLaine's character by stark contrast is almost an afterthought, thrown in it seems to help move the story along. But the interesting thing is, most of these characters almost have to be totally blank and unremarkable because that's exactly how Walter Mitty's life really is, where as Cheryl's life is real and authentic, colored by the challenge of being a single mother on the verge of losing her job.
Walter Mitty works at Life Magazine as the "negative assets manager", and as such, has access to some of the most remarkable adventure shots taken around the world by explorer/photographer Sean O'Connell, played by Sean Penn. The magazine is getting ready to publish it's last physical edition before moving to an online magazine, and the photo for the cover has gone missing. It's Walter's responsibility to find it. He fantasizes all day about the things he might do, and he dreams about connecting with the beautiful Cheryl, but never takes the action to connect with her at the office. But finding that missing negative triggers him into action.
This is what makes the movie so inspiring. Walter Mitty is actually able to move past his ineffectual daydreams and do something so wildly out of character as take on the task of tracking down a missing photo negative halfway across the globe simply because he feels responsible. And of course, he wants to impress a girl.
As I sat in that theater absorbed in the contrast of fantasy vs. reality, lethargy vs. action, I began to notice similarities in my own life. Fear of failure is a powerful force that often keeps us stuck in our dreams, unable to take the action necessary to enrich our lives and the lives of those around us. I look at where I've been these last few years, so beaten up by the challenges of running this business and how easy it would be to let failure just stop me from trying once again to create the life I always dreamed about, simply because it hadn't worked out the way I first imagined it would.
We have all been let down, disappointed by life and others, with our dreams left shattered at our feet. We so want to be validated by others as exceptional, but we have to validate ourselves first. We have to believe in ourselves and the possibility that we can make our dreams come true.
We are often our own worst enemies; sabotaging our dreams even before they leave our minds, simply because we're afraid of being let down yet again, or worse, being judged and ridiculed by others, and giving them the power to stop us.
But at some point, you have to say "f**k it, I'm doing it anyway because what else do I have to lose?" You've already lost everything and nothing else can disappoint you, so there's freedom in taking action because what's the worst that can happen at that point? You fail again, or by some miracle, you are freed from failure and go for it, no matter what the energetic cost, and achieve your dreams, or something better than you could have imagined. You could end up on the cover of your own Life Magazine!
Yes, this was just a movie, but the broader implications of this story are very inspiring. Yes, I'm taking another stab at making Gearhead successful, and by the Grace of God, maybe I'll come close to making my dreams a reality, or by some miracle, maybe it will be better than my imagination. At least I'm trying, and at least I'm taking action, instead of giving up and crawling away with my tail between my legs like I've been so tempted to do.
Where have you put your dreams on hold? Where are you not taking action in your own life? What are you afraid of? This holiday season, go watch this movie and be inspired. Allow the magic of dreams to fill your heart and go for it.