Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Quote of the Day: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Over winter break I got a chance to see the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Besides confirming my dream of one day traveling to Iceland, it was also a beautiful movie to watch, and it was superbly acted by all those involved. This film is full of memorable quotes, from the funny ("You know who looks good in a beard? Dumbledore. Not you.") to the profound ("Beautiful things don't ask for attention."), and of course it's hard to overlook the "motto" of the film (And of Life Magazine): "To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the meaning of life."But the quote that struck me the most was something said in a conversation between Walter Mitty and the photographer Sean O'Connell.
They are on a mountaintop, watching a snow leopard that Sean is trying to photograph.
Walter Mitty: Are you going to take it?
Sean O'Connell: Sometimes I don't. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don't like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.
Walter Mitty: Stay in it?
Sean O'Connell: Yeah. Right there. Right here.
Those few lines of dialogue hit me right in the stomach. There, sitting in the dark movie theatre, I thought of my phone nestled in my purse. I hadn't turned it off; it was still on vibrate. I could feel every e-mail, every text message I received. The same was probably true for everyone in the theatre.
I come from a family of photographers. We record everything, from Christmas and birthdays to visits to our favorite coffee shop. We once spent a good chunk of a family dinner showing my Uncle how to use Instagram. Don't get me wrong. I love taking pictures. I love documenting little moments, enhancing them with filters, and the thrill of sending them out into the world. I love film photography, too. The smell of chemicals, the feel of developer on your fingers. I love that the stakes are higher, and that it forces you to be thoughtful at every stage in the process. As a writer, I am a recordist by nature. Every moment is trapped, filtered, and congealed on the page, but words still pale in comparison to the actual experience.
That little moment in Walter Mitty made me reevaluate the way I was living my life. It reminded me that not all moments have to be recorded in order for them to be meaningful. The most powerful memories can only happen when you are fully present. Sure, I'm glad I have so many instagram photos, but there's a certain kind of comfort that comes with knowing I wasn't distracted during the experiences that meant the most to me. Things like standing on the stage at Carnegie hall, or having Thanksgiving dinner in Ireland with my family in the 7th grade. Things like that don't need to be validated by a photograph or even a poem or a short story. They just are.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is full of messages like this one. It's a movie about going into the unknown and facing your fears. It's about living life to the fullest and not letting yourself fall into the trap of dreaming but never doing. In a world where everything is vying for our attention, I think we could all learn to be a little bit more choosy about what we let ourselves get distracted by, and inevitably, what we're missing.
Afterthoughts: I don't want anyone to think that after seeing this film I suddenly gave up instagram (or facebook or youtube or one of myriad other distractions). Sean O'Connell's words (or, really, his character's words) simply inspired me to think (and write) about this subject. My goal is to find a balance between capturing moments and experiencing them.
I hope you found this post interesting, and if you have thoughts on Walter Mitty, photography, or anything discussed above, I'd love to hear about it in the comments. This post is part of a sporadic series that I started a while back, where I take a closer look at the quotes that resonate with me. You can read the first of this series, here. As always, thanks for reading!