Getting Real with Walter Mitty

I saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty the other night. We haven’t been to the theater since we moved to LA over three years ago. I think it was a combination of lack of funds early on mixed with nothing we really wanted to see until we developed a habit of not going. But with the previews of Ben Stiller flying around in Arctic landscapes, we were pretty sure that this was something we needed to see on the big screen.

The first thirty minutes or so, I was only mildly intrigued. I was not sure where it was going, and it certainly wasn’t getting there in a hurry. The slow plot, however, was a secondary problem to the makeup. I was struggling to be drawn into a world where people were so highly stylized. Ben Stiller was transformed into a short, bad-dressing Ken doll with makeup that seemed to take the place of his real face. Other characters were out of place with distractingly groomed beards. The whole movie was a little too processed for my taste.

This went on for a while until this overly stylized Walter faced a crisis, and then the movie really started. Walter stepped out of the prescribed and predictable world that he had been living in, into a world of possibility. He leapt (literally) into an ocean of experiences that had had only ever watched other people live. At one point in the movie, he says that he remembers being “a kid with a mohawk and a backpack and a dream of how his life was going to be.” And it is in the leap that he begins to become the person he had imagined he could be. We watch him connect with his younger self and the person he is becoming as he wanders through amazingly beautiful scenery.

Cleverly, his makeup makes a hasty departure as he begins to transform, and it is replaced by a rugged, unshaven look and surroundings that scream life and cold and beauty. Walter and his life become real.

Having been a kid with a backpack and a dream, I see myself in Walter. Toiling away at a job in a city that doesn’t care if I am here or not, pretty sure that this life of grocery stores and meetings is not what I dreamed I would become. And having traveled and camped my way across Alaska with my husband, I have lived those moments in the thrilling cold. Those times when the landscape reaches out in front of you almost unending as enormous, snow-capped mountains rise in the distance and a herd of caribou dances across the plain. And you feel insignificantly enormous. As though you are only a tiny spec in the grandeur that is all around you, and that grandeur makes your life huge. And you look into the distance and then get out your tent and hope to have it up before the snow starts falling and you are covered in the cold.

When the movie ended, I wiped the tears from my eyes because the ending is quite clever and touching. For those of you who haven’t seen it, I will hold back. But it was in the ending I realized that when Walter gets home from his far-flung adventures, he will be a very different person who still has to go to the grocery store. And I can’t help but think about the tension of living between our dreams and our realities.

There in the dark, I grabbed my husband’s phone and jotted down “you become when you do,” and I am challenged. Challenged to do the things that I want to be. And I am in love with the movie because it so clearly shows the amazing transformative power of stepping out with trepidation into a world that you can only imagine. There in the midst of the realities of life, in the middle of the meetings, and the things that need to be done, the mask falls off, the make up fades, the grey walls of your life recede, and you begin to see colors and moments and yourself in a way that you could never have imagined. Even in your best dreams.

We become real when we live who we are meant to be. And Walter Mitty is such a great reminder that we can all start being real in the things that we choose to do. We can start living our dreams inside of a life full of appointments and bill paying. Because those choices, those leaps, those moments of grandeur that we step into, will be the things that transform us into the person we dream that we can be. Living our dreams and being ourselves in the middle of our reality.

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