Friday, June 4, 2010

I Enthusiastically and Hesitatingly Recommend "Stranger Than Fiction"

Sara and I first saw Stranger Than Fiction in the theater a few years ago, and I watched it a second time the other night.

The movie centers on Harold Crick—a methodical IRS agent who does everything with precision, the same way, day-in and day-out, right down to the number of strokes he takes when brushing his teeth—and his watch. At least that’s what the narrator tells us.

Intriguing already, the story becomes more so when Harold himself begins to hear the narrator talking about what he is doing, and the movie then focuses on Harold trying to discover the source and meaning of the voice he hears detailing everything he’s doing, even accurately describing his feelings and motivations.

On the other side of the story is the story of the narrator (played by Emma Thompson), unaware that the novel she is writing is actually being lived out precisely as she writes it. She is experiencing writer’s block, trying to figure out how to kill off Harold Crick at the end of the book, because her books are always tragedies.

The drone-like life of Harold Crick gets another bump when he audits Ana (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal), a socialist-leaning baker who intentionally only paid 78% of her taxes. Romance between these two opposites eventually blooms after it scales several hurdles.

Crick’s awakening leaps forward when he hears the narrator’s voice say something about his imminent death.

The movie’s message, at least as I see it, is about living one’s life to the full. Ironically, Harold Crick doesn’t seem to begin to do so until confronted with the prospect of his death.

The plot is fantastical, and questions arise. If Harold Crick is the main character in a novel being written, how did he live before that? One could say that he didn’t really. Yes, he was alive in one sense—he breathed, he ate, he worked, he slept—, but he didn’t really come alive until this narrator spoke into his life, and then he eventually really started living.

It’s a brilliant movie many ways. There are other great elements I haven’t even touched on, like the role Harold’s watch plays, the help a literature professor (played by Dustin Hoffman) gives Harold in understanding the nature of story as well as the nature of life, the development of the narrator-character connection, and even the soundtrack, which is perfect for the movie.

Harold Crick is played by funny man Will Ferrell. How in the world did they think of him for this part? His part is so somber and straight-faced for much of the movie. And yet he plays it brilliantly!

I hasten to mention some serious flaws.

  • There are a few explicit lines in the movie.
  • Harold and Ana end up in bed together.
  • In one scene Crick and the professor walk through a men’s shower room where the backsides of a few showering men are shown.

These reasons alone may be enough for you to consider not seeing the movie.

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