The Secret Life of a Good Story

I am not an avid movie watcher.

I like movies; don’t get me wrong.  As someone who loves the written word immeasurably, I’m often just as struck by dialogue and character development as I am in a good book.  But for many years, I found it hard to sit still to watch unless I was in a theater. It drives my friends bats.  They recommend what are likely very good movies or television series and I hem and haw.  If they loan me something, I’ve learned to give them the disclaimer, “I’m REALLY BAD about watching.  I need to be in the “right” mood;  it may be a WHILE.”  Often, I end up sheepishly returning the DVDs without having watched at all because I feel like I’ve borrowed them way beyond the time that is reasonable.

In the past two days, I’ve watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty twice.

I can’t recall if I read James Thurber’s story;  if I haven’t, I likely should.

The gist is that Walter is living a fairly anonymous life but he daydreams of wild adventures, adventures he may have embarked on if circumstances hadn’t derailed his life’s plans early on.  Through the encouragement of his love interest, he embarks on the adventure of a thousand lifetimes in search of something he thinks lost.

Beyond the amazing cast, storyline, and pop culture references, I loved the movie for another reason.  It harkens back to my favorite book, a book I’ve hinted many times over changed my life:  A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller.  The premise of the book is what led me to Romania and ultimately to the adventure I’m currently on;  it’ll lead me to my next and more after that, too, I’m certain.  It encouraged me to look at the kind of story I was living.  It was not, by any stretch, a bad one but not one of courage or bravery or, most importantly, change and growth; it was about the fear and comfort and settling. Miller says this of story:

If the point of life is the same as the point of the story, the point of life is character transformation.  If I got any comfort as I set out on my first story, it was that, in nearly every story, the protagonist is transformed.  He’s a jerk at the beginning and nice at the end, or a coward in the beginning and brave in the end.  If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet.  And if story is derived from real life, if story is just a condensed version of life then life itself might be designed to change us so that we evolve from one kind of person to another.  

And isn’t that just what life is about, anyway?  I think so.

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