Saturday, September 19, 2015

Lazy Movie Weekend: Little did he know...

I suspect that I may not be the only person to wonder, on occasion, if I am living in a comedy or tragedy. It's an easy road to go down: have a string of bad days or unpleasant events occur regularly, you might think tragedy is following you. I'm guessing there are also people who experience the kind of tragedy only found in Greek drama or Shakespeare. Conversely, when everything is going well and there's a hint of fun and lightness in life, then maybe just maybe this life is comedy. Personally, I think I'd prefer my life to be a musical comedy. So many things would be more entertaining if I could sing and dance about them.

I've been thinking about comedy and tragedy lately. There are two reasons for this:
  1. It's that time of the year where things change rather rapidly at work and there's an air of mystery and "intrigue" as people move around (promotions, new jobs, etc.) that often feels very cinematic and clandestine.
  2. Earlier this month, I started prepping for National Novel Writing Month. My last two NaNoWriMo novels have been my version of romantic comedies. I don't know that I want to write a tragedy but my idea for this year could lead me down that road. However, I feel very strongly that I am not a dramatic, tragic writer.
With these things in mind, I decided to focus this week's Lazy Movie Weekend on a movie that gets right to the heart of life as comedy or tragedy. What would happen if one day you woke up and began hearing the a voice narrating your life? Grab your thimbles and Socialist reading materials and settle in for 2006's Stranger Than Fiction.
  • This movie boasts and impressive cast: Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Queen Latifah, Tom Hulce, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Will Ferrell. It's the least Will Ferrell movie you'll ever see. It's also my favorite of his (yes, I love this movie more than Elf).
  • What's most impressive about the beginning is that the narration doesn't seem out of place. It's just narration, a standard dramatic device used in countless films. Watching Harold (Ferrell) realize that the narration is happening is wonderful to watch.
  • Fun fact: All of the characters' last names are inspired by famous mathematicians, scientists, philosophers, or artists (Crick, Eiffel, Pascal, Escher, etc.). There's also a running visual reference to Rene Magritte's painting "Son of Man." 
  • Harold is an auditor for the IRS. Absolutely makes sense.
  • Two of Harold's co-workers are the guys from all the Sonic commercials. 
  • Visually, the film is incredibly interesting. The watch/clock motif is used throughout (since Harold's watch will change the course of his life) and the settings, the apartments, the college campus, the bus, are all fun to watch. It was filmed in Chicago.
  • Buster Bluth! Dave is Harold's only friend and has a dream of going to space camp. Don't we all Dave?
  • Enter Emma Thompson (Karen), Queen Latifah (Penny), and Maggie Gyllenhaal (Ana). I question how Penny got into Karen's apartment (did she have keys?) and Ana's story about how she got into Harvard Law. 
  • Karen: "I don't know how to kill Harold Crick."
  • Linda Hunt as the psychologist. Instead medicating or committing Harold, she suggests he go talk to a literature professor since Harold believes that he is hearing narration not going crazy. SeeIms legit.
  •  "I'm not an expert in crazy. I'm an expert in literary theory." I love Dustin Hoffman's Professor Hilbert. He goes from no interest in Harold to fervent interest in 10 seconds. All because of the narrator's choice of the phrase "little did he know" in her narration. He's written papers on "little did he know." A nice wink to the over-analysis of some academics.
  • "I left my thimbles and Socialist reading materials at home." Harold's attempt to flirt with Ana, the owner of the bakery that he is currently auditing. This is one of my favorite lines of the movie. 
  • Professor Hilbert devises a questionnaire to determine the type of story that Harold is in. There are twenty-three questions (another math reference) including, "Are you the king of anything?" and "Have you met anyone recently who might loathe the very core of you?" From these questions, we learn that Harold is not in a fairy tale, Scout Finch, any number of Shakespearean characters, or a Golem.
  • "Let's start at ridiculous and move backwards." Excellent life advice.
  • I like the idea that Ana would like to make the world a better place through cookies. That's probably one of the better ideas I've ever heard. 
  • Professor Hilbert tells Harold to go live his life. He believes Harold has never really done this so Harold does. He lives his life: buys a guitar and learns one song, stops wearing ties, and falls in love. He should have eaten nothing but pancakes as the professor suggested. 
  • The whole sequence in the guitar store is genius.
  • Harold brings Ana flours! What a delightful play on words. I love this scene.

  • Of course just as Harold's begins to live his life, he figures out who the author is narrating his ultimate demise. Professor Hilbert's reaction: "She kills people." 
  • I appreciate Harold using his IRS power for good to find Karen Eiffel. I also like the use of payphones and landlines in this movie. Cell phones weren't as ubiquitous in 2006. It's refreshing. 
  • This movie brings up so many questions: What would you do if you were a character in someone's novel? How would you deal with knowing that the author was going to kill you in the novel which would mean you would die in real life? If someone told you, "You have to die. It's her masterpiece?" would you go on with it or punch the person in the throat?
  • It's amazing to me that Karen gives Harold the book in the first place. If your hero all of the sudden appeared in the flesh and asked you not to kill him, would you give him the novel? 
  • I won't reveal the ending because that would spoil the whole thing but I'll leave you with this: Harold's watch does, in fact, save the day.

There are so many wonderful and magical moments in this movie. Every time I watch it, I find something else I didn't notice during my previous viewing. Harold is a little bit of all of us; stuck in his day to day, believing that life is just the number of steps from bus stop to office door or the brushstrokes when brushing his teeth. We can choose to continue counting or go learn to play the guitar. I don't know that I've solved my novel conundrum but I can be soothed with this line from Professor Hilbert, "The hero dies but the story lives on forever."

This is the song Harold learns to play:


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