Ben Stiller, 2013, 114 minutes
The intersection of dating and technology is an inevitable topic for single adults in therapy. Whether discussing questions about the choice to pursue on-line dating, or how Facebook, Instagram and texting shape the modern relationship landscape, technology has a profound influence over the process of seeking romance and connection.
Directed by Ben Stiller, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty paints a compelling picture of the extent to which the internet revolution can seduce us into a screen and away from a life. As the film opens, Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) and his colleagues learn they must navigate the transition of their employer, LIFE magazine, from print to digital and the likely loss of many if not all of their jobs. Digital’s usurping of print media functions as the film’s backdrop and metaphor for how the computerization of so many aspects of life experience may be efficient, amazing and inevitable — and yet it is also connected (pun intended) to how easily a screen can seduce and usurp other more vibrant and authentic pursuits.
As Walter obsesses over how to connect with his co-worker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) on eHarmony, he forms a telephone relationship with an eHarmony technician, Todd, (Patton Oswalt) who urges Walter to spice up his profile. Walter insists he has little or nothing to add to his many fill in the blanks that have been left blank. Through dramatic daydreaming and difficult self-reflection, Walter realizes how far he has strayed from the passionate skateboarding teen he used to be and from the adventurous life he longs to live.
What this film does so well is demonstrate that most adversity — in this case the likelihood of job loss — is an excellent opportunity for growth. It is interesting how many people seek therapy when they are assigned a new supervisor or boss and their place of employment enters a state of flux. Professional re-structuring often triggers significant anxiety, but those who are able to locate growth opportunities in the face of professional transition can often evolve and thrive. Walter’s dramatic adventure in pursuit of the lost negative meant to become LIFE magazine’s final cover amuses and inspires while demonstrating how much color, contrast and magic exists for those who will turn off their computers and embrace a non-internet connected experience.
During his adventures, the film’s iconic photographer, Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), waits hours to capture the perfect off the grid wildlife image, and his final shot is so magical he calmly decides to enjoy the moment rather than take the photograph. This calm and collected choice to live in the moment rather than through the screen is the essential message of this inspiring film. Sometimes electronic disconnection is necessary for an authentic connection. If you are single and struggling to navigate the internet dating landscape, this provocative and entertaining story could bring wonderful inspiration.