Stranger Than Fiction: A life Worth Living
Before I saw this movie I was going to write about a different movie called Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It's a wonderful film with some interesting story development and a handful of lies that tell the truth (I'll write it later). I don't usually do this, but I felt like I should add personal examples for the story I'm dissecting in this blog, so if I come off as self centered I apologize it is not my intention.
I saw Stranger Than Fiction once, before I was into film making, and didn't really know what to look for in the movie. A few days ago I was browsing through movies one of my instructors gave to me to study and I chose to watch this one. I was inspired by it. Viewing this film inspired me to write about its core value. Life is more than what we live out. So, let me start by introducing you to our lead character.
The Boring Man:
Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is a reflection of the modern zombie. When I hear the word “Agent” I think 007, guns, cars, suits and aviator glasses. I don't think IRS, but I guess its just as menacing; and Harold is so far gone, he became an IRS “agent.” His whole life is a religious duty to his routine which is mundane and vanilla. He's smart and can solve complex math problems in a few seconds, but his brain is the reason his routine is so dull. In fact, the only interesting thing about him is that he hears the voice of a middle aged English woman narrating his life.
Routine is a Double Edged Sword:
Don't get me wrong, discipline is important and consistency is a key factor in success for the long hall, but what you intend to do consistently could lead to negative consequences (excessive drinking, pornography, etc..). For Harold Crick, his reality became so routine that he lost sight of who he was as a man. For me I was an overnight security guard and on my days off I stayed up all night to keep up with my shift. In that time I studied four books on screenwriting studied three films a day and practiced under a talented script doctor who shall remain nameless. I was making great strides, but it was incredibly lonely. I became anti social, and I lost some of my charisma. I'm sure we can all pin point our own destructive routines. To break the habit requires motivation, which is what Harold needed.
Little Did He Know... :
Harold follows his routine, but ignoring the voice in his head eventually becomes a part of it. Eventually he has to audit a bakery owned and operated by an attractive woman named Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal) She evaded taxes she didn't want to pay and in doing this she attracted unwanted attention from the IRS. Harold was the poor unfortunate soul that ended up in her lobby where he is “boooo”-ed into embarrassment. Once he pulls out the papers the voice interrupts his day by describing Ana's figure and he looks her over ending at her chest (super embracing). He brushes it off and continues the audit. The next day his wristwatch stops working and he has to ask someone for the time and the Narrators voice ends with, “Little did he know that this simple, seemingly innocuous act would result in his imminent death.”
This freaks him out. So far the voice has only been narrating his actions, not predicting the future but it had such a resolve, that he actually believed it. He goes to his employment counselor who is too concerned with feelings to be of any real help. He sees a psychologist about the voice and they say he's schizophrenic (he isn't). As he ran out of options the only thing he could think of doing was to seek help from a man named Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman). As a literature professor, Jules recognizes the voice Harold describes as a living person with distinguishable literary work. He encourages Harold to identify the author through observing the story of his life by keeping tallies in a journal under the titles Comedy and Tragedy. Boring Harold is now on a journey of self-discovery.
Observation is Powerful:
Harold tallies for awhile and ends up in Ana's Bakery clustered with her purposefully unorganized tax documents. At the end of his day she bakes cookies and offers them to him. She sits down and they talk. While he eats he feels as if he's floating. She tries to send him home with the rest but he says no because it could be seen as a bribe by the IRS. This sends their conversation crashing into the ground and he realizes she made the cookies for him. “This may sound like gibberish to you... But uh... but I think I have a tragedy.” He sees Jules again, and this time he tells Harold to stay home and do nothing. So he does.
Do you ever get that fear of something outlandish happening to you, like getting your arm ripped off by a semi truck for holding it out the window while driving down the interstate? Because this sort of thing almost happens to Harold. He stays home all day and has his second story wall smashed in by a bulldozer because some construction workers were tearing into the wrong apartment complex. Harold does not control his fate, so Jules tells Harold to live the life he's always wanted and too accept his fate when it comes.
Life Should Be An Adventure:
A very good point in personal growth is when you choose to do something you've always dreamed of doing but never follow through with it.
Because of his broken wall, Harold stays with a co-worker and it deepens their relationship into a real friendship. He wanted to learn guitar so he bought one and practiced. He wanted to be with Ana, and because he didn't directly hurt her he chose to ask her out by bringing her “flowers.” Her feelings were mutual, so she asked him to walk her home. His life is becoming an adventure.
Like Harold, maybe you've liked someone and thought it would be wonderful to have a romantic relationship with that person, but asking them on a date would have been uncomfortable. The fear of rejection shuts down the minds of a lot of men, so nothing happens. Like Harold, I hit a milestone, back in 2017. I had to step out of my comfort zone, I chose to grow. Harold chose to learn guitar, I chose to take some self defense classes for a few months and I was hooked. Its 2019 and I now have a years worth of Muay Thai Kickboxing and several months of Krav Maga on my tool belt. One thing I absolutely must do at some point is go skydiving because I'm afraid of heights. What ever your small yearning is, whether it's storytelling, shooting guns, painting, coaching a little league baseball team, etc... I would encourage you to follow this. Yes, life should be an adventure; But there is always an element of danger... even death.
You're Still Gonna Die:
After gaining a love life Harold goes back to Jules and tells him that his life is a comedy, not a tragedy. This resolve worked... until they spot the Author. Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) is being interviewed on a rerun tape that Jules happens to play in his office. She has been struggling with writers block for 10 years, and she is known best for killing off her protagonists. Harold is frantic. He desperately searches for her and eventually they connect and he hands the rough draft of his story (and death) to Jules who reads it for him. The next morning he tells Harold that this is Karen's masterpiece. He should accept his death knowing it will happen.
Some would say Jules is being cruel, but he is right. If there is one really important truth to this movie, it is that death is a part of life.
Jordan Peterson quotes Nietzsche “And if you look long enough into the abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” The idea in essence is that you must look into the darkest place you know, albeit your own mortality; and face fear as it comes... The most interesting thing about Harolds death is that he saves himself by facing it head on.
The Life We Live Is Shaped By the Choices We Make:
Choice is a powerful thing. Harold eventually reads about his death and chooses to follow through with it. Harold “died” saving a boy on his new bike that didn't understand the rules of the street and Harold was hit by a city bus. He winds up in a hospital with a few broken bones and part of his wristwatch lodged in an artery that could kill him if they removed it. The Author has let him live. Karen says about him, “He's the type of man you'd want to keep alive.” He chose to face his own death for the sake of another person. He grew out of the mundane and gained a new perspective. As he sits in the hospital bed Ana comes to visit him. He tells her that he had no choice, he had to do it. He never saw his action as loosing his life, he saw it as saving another person.
Its the choices we make that cause life to be exciting, an adventure. Karen says something about Harold Cricks' life that I won't give away until you see the final clip. She means to say everything in life, both small and monumental, normal or abnormal, the things and people we value are here with a purpose. They are what shape the world around us. What I believe Harold Crick was missing most of all in his life was the ability to live in the moment. Being given that information I would reflect and choose to live my life as it comes. Let's love our lives, have a little faith and find purpose in all we do.