The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty debuted in the United States on December 25, 2013. This review focuses on the how the film is an essay on the transition from analog to digital – made for and by the children of the 70’s (otherwise known as Generation X), the “analog vs. digital” and “disrespect for the past” themes, “the purpose of life”, and symbolism in the film. Most of this is from memory and is my own opinions. I have not read any other reviews on this movie, but have seen the movie and trailers.

* Spoiler Alert * This article contains information about the movie. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, please consider watching it first. * Photos credit 20th Century Fox *

Walter Mitty and Cheryl Melhoff

Generation X

In #Mitty, the movie, the actors and the director are all Generation X. Stiller was born in 1965 and is currently 48 years old. To give you perspective on the person writing this article, I was born in 1980 which makes me part of Generation X, Y, and the Millennial Generation, however I’m most likely Generation Jones. While I was able to pick up on a lot of the references and music used in the film, there are still things that I didn’t ‘get’ like the name on the t-shirt Mitty’s mom kept for him.

The movie is full of references to Generation X. Mitty’s sister is auditioning to be Rizzo in Grease, a movie that came out in 1978. She gets him a Stretch Armstrong (debuted in 1976) doll for his birthday. Mitty has a Jansport hiking bag (popular in the 80’s). At the end of the movie Mitty is wearing a hoodie sweatshirt, a leather strap necklace with a copper hex nut, and friendship bracelets. There are also several scenes referencing “Major Tom“, which is a fictional character created by David Bowie in the late 60’s.

You can always tell about how old you are based on what music appears in commercials and it’s becoming apparent that the markets have begun marketing less to the Baby Boomers and more to their children, Generation X. No where is that more apparent than in this movie, which is filled with product placements tucked in and tied to the story line from eHarmony to Papa Johns to LIFE.com, but with nods to Conan O’Brien, TBS, Cinnabon, Dell, CareerBuilder.com, KFC, Instagram, the iPhone, and American Airlines.

Generation X was the last generation to graduate high school and enter the workforce before cell phones and Internet access became ubiquitous. Ben Stiller’s directorial debut, Reality Bites, which came out in 1994, was the same year Netscape started. The World Wide Web had just begun and yet it was already clear that things were changing. It appears that Ben Stiller, despite the success he’s had since then, still longs for a time when things were more simple, more analog – and is betting his audience does too.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Movie Review

Analog vs. Digital

When Walter Mitty goes to give Rich the longboard at Cheryl’s home, there are at least three 70s-era cars on the street, which is very unusual for a movie set in 2013. In that same scene, on a wall, drawn in chalk is the words, “Here Comes the Sun,” which is an allusion to a Beatles Song of the same name from the album Abbey Road, which came out in 1969. On the cab ride back to his mom’s house, Walter Mitty wants to turn the cab’s digital video off to which the cab driver says ominously, “It stays on.”

Walter Mitty has an analog clock in his apartment (not pictured, but you can hear it ticking in the background) and he wears an analog wristwatch with a leather strap. Although the watch is never specifically referenced in the film, it plays a small part in the short story by James Thurber. For a sense of how Thurber thought about watches, in The Gentleman in 916, he writes, “Even the sound of a wrist-watch prevents me from sleeping, because it sounds like two men trying to take a wheel off a locomotive.”

While Walter Mitty does have a computer, it’s an older model, Dell laptop, which echoes his cell phone, an older flip-style phone. In contrast, Cheryl’s character uses a modern smartphone with Internet access. She still uses terms like “buffering” when searching the Internet (something she probably doesn’t have to do and isn’t a term used much any more). On the flip side, the photographer, Sean O’Connell does not have a phone at all – nor does any place Sean is currently located (ie. a shipping boat).

While on the shipping boat, a deck hand takes a picture with his smartphone for Instagram, and asks to be Facebook friends. This foreshadows Mitty’s meeting with Sean O’Connel in Afghanistan who doesn’t take a picture at all, instead choosing to remember the moment as “me”/himself without the camera. This lost desire to be ‘in the moment’ shares a sentiment with those who identified with Charlene deGuzman and Miles Crawford’s I Forgot My Phone video which  went viral in August of 2013.

Ben Stiller's Secret Life of Walter Mitty Movie

Disrespect for the Past

Walter Mitty works with analog film, something Kodak stopped making in June of 2013. Mitty’s co-worker, Hernando (which means “bold voyager”) has a man-crush on the photographer, O’Connell for still using film, which acknowledges he is well aware that although he is surrounded by film negatives, digital pictures have largely replaced analog film. Mitty states that he has never lost a negative despite “over a million” negatives passing through his care over the last 16 years he worked at TIME magazine.

“Negative Asset Manager” is Mitty’s job title, but it’s also a metaphor for the deprecation of ‘everything that’s come before’. In the final scene of the movie, Mitty tells his former boss that the magazine has been built by many people over a long time, which the new boss is now treating as a negative asset on the balance sheet that needs debited or written off. The message is that businesses are created and ran by people, not balance sheets, and should be treated with more respect, even when things change.

When Mitty’s boss, Ted Hendricks asks Mitty where the picture was, Mitty says it’s in a “silver bath” to which Ted does not even try to understand. He later asks someone else to look it up only to conclude that it “doesn’t exist.” Of course it exists, but simply Googling “silver bath” will only give you shiny pictures of bathroom accessories. You have to know that it was a part of photo processing, which is something older generations, even Generation X, understood – even if only in context.

The most visual disrespect for the past occurs as Mitty is entering LIFE magazine for the last time and movers are literally dropping art onto the floor as they violently remove it from the walls. All of the desks are empty and covered in drop cloths like dead bodies, a symbol for the lost jobs and the lost magazine.  After working at the magazine for over 16 years, during his 17th year, the job ended – a ‘death” which could be a metaphor for the death of his father, which happened when Mitty was 17.

Walter Mitty Purpose of Life

The Purpose of Life

In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty movie, LIFE Magazine’s motto is, “To see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to, to draw closer, to see and be amazed.” This motto is written on the wall of the lobby and is repeated in the wallet O’Connell gives Mitty and in the background of the movie as Mitty leaves for Greenland. However, on the wallet, O’Connell added one more sentence, “That is the purpose of life.”

Off the coast of Greenland when Mitty jumps into the ocean, the captain of boat yells, “Don’t fear the porpoise,” which sounds like, “Don’t fear the purpose.” In this movie, Walter Mitty is 42 years old. In real life, Ben Still was 47 at the time of shooting the film. While younger than Brad Pitt, he still may have fears about the purpose of his life, just like Walter Mitty. Just like us. Just like me. He doesn’t want to be the old man bringing the news on a telegram.

Film Symbolism

The most blatant symbolism used in the movie was with allusions to 35 mm film reels and negatives. From the lights in Mitty’s apartment hallway to the windows on the outside of his apartment building, to the dots on the glass in LIFE magazine lobby, to the fuselage of the Greenland airplane at night, the film perforations, also known as perfs or sprocket holes and rectangular acetone film frames themselves were apparent throughout the beginning of the film.

The word “Life” was used throughout the movie, not just as the name of the magazine, but also in conversations Mitty had with Cheryl and his mother. It’s also referenced on the bottom of the longboard Mitty traded for in Iceland. In large print it says, “LIFIO”, which is Icelandic for “can survive”. Similarly, Cheryl comments to Mitty “last in, first out”, which is commonly shortened as “LIFO” in business process management. Find any more? Leave a note in the comments.

Ben Stiller’s Walter Mitty Longboards

UPDATE: Bustin Boards has confirmed that it’s a Bustin Boards Boombox longboard and after seeing the movie, it should be noted that there is only one longboarding scene in Iceland. The other New York scene mentioned in this article is ‘covered’ by CGI which makes it look like Walter Mitty is longboarding on asphalt. All pictures copyright of their individual owners.

Ben Stiller as Walter Mitty Longboarding in Greenland

Ben Stiller stars in and directs The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, where he is seen carrying and riding a longboard skateboard in several parts of the movie. At one point he’s longboarding down a hill in Greenland, while in another scene he’s longboarding down a street in New York City. The 2013 movie, which is based loosely on the original James Thurber short story and the 1947 Danny Kaye film, was filmed in Bronx, New York City, Greenland, and Iceland.

While the movie doesn’t come out in America until December 25, 2013, after watching the trailer I wondered what longboard Ben Stiller was using in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty movie. A reddit thread on longboarding in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty offered up the following clues. According to justchilln, “a Freebord was actually used in a dream sequence in which Mitty is snowboarding down the street of NY. Source- My buddy was the freeboarder.” You can see Ben Stiller filming part of this sequence in New York in this video below.

On June 14, 2012 Silverfish Longboarding posted the above video on Facebook where Jame Ka-stello pointed out, “It’s a Gravity Ed Economy, and Ben can actually skate, modestly as it may be – lets not get too fired up, the wires are there because they use that rig for a lot of stunts. Plus it would suck for ben stiller to catch a stop rock and faceplant I suppose.” And Aj Powell said, “At least he’s riding Paris Trucks“. However, Willy Staley noticed that, “the trucks are on backwards.”

According to user, thewatches, on Reddit, “I saw this movie in a pre-screening in nyc, and it’s fantastic, but they use 3 different longboards in the movie (it’s supposed to be just one board). They change it situationally, some downhill board like a landyachtz or something and two different Bustin boards.” While I couldn’t find a picture of a Land Yachtz longboard skateboard used by Ben Stiller in the Walter Mitty film, the pictures below are most likely a Gravity Ed longboard and a Bustin Maestro Pro longboard.

Ben Stiller Gravity Ed Longboard Ben Stiller Bustin Maestro Pro Longboard
In this image, Ben Stiller is likely riding a Gravity Ed longboard with Freeboard attachments to keep his feet in place. Some have criticized the film for Walter Mitty not wearing a helmet, but in this image he is being hung by wires to keep him up. Originally featured on The Daily Mail on May 7, 2012, Ben Stiller is shown carrying an. “extremely large skateboard over his shoulder”, which is likely a Bustin Boards Maestro Pro Longboard.

M Longboard Industry in France

While I’m not sure how this fits into the story, I did find that on Nov 10, 2013, M Longboard Industry wrote on their Facebook page (translated from French), “What a pleasure when a huge company producing Hollywood knocks on the door of a small workshop shape French … On the occasion of the release of the film “The Life of Walter Mitty” January 1, 2014, 20th Century Fox has decided to win 3, Z-Shape M-longboard-industry autographed by Ben Stiller in person!” and “Ben Stiller on the set of “The Dream Life of Walter Mitty”, on the occasion of the French release January 1, 2014, M-3 longboard longboards industry, the effigy of the film autographed by the actor to be won at the national level through UGC! Soon find all photos of the production of these boards Z-Shape.” The associated picture was that of Ben Stiller holding the sign post, which is a different longboard skateboard than the other two longboards shown.

Ben Stiller Other Longboard

What are the 3 Longboard Skateboards used by Ben Stiller in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty?

I have emailed customer service at Gravity Skateboards, Bustin Boards, Land Yachtz, and M Longboard Industry, but have yet to get a response about if any of their longboard skateboards were used in the Walter Mitty movie. However, both the movie and Bustin Boards are located in New York City so there’s a high probability that the movie used a local company. Gravity Skateboards are out of California, Land Yaachtz are out of Vancouver, BC, and M Longboard Industry is out of France.

  1. Gravity Ed Longboard – used in street scenes in New York city – buy on Amazon.
  2. Bustin Maestro Pro Longboard – used in the downhill scenes in Greenland – buy on Amazon
  3. Either the Land Yachtz Longboard Time Machine or the M Longboard Industry X Board as used in other parts of the film – buy on Amazon.

If you have information about what longboard skateboard was used by Ben Stiller in the 2013 Secret Life of Walter Mitty Film, please let me know in the comments below or on Twitter.

Matt at M Longboard Industry Matt points to this Rad Train article as evidence that Ben Stiller used Dregs Skateboards. I can’t find any hard evidence of that, nor can I find the original Concrete Wave Magazine article that supports it, but I will admit that the Dregs Blade Crest longboard does look a lot like the one used in the film. Josh Dickey, managing editor at The Wrap, said on Twitter that the downhill scene in Greenland features a LandYachts Wolf Shark longboard.

If you’ve seen the movie and know what skateboard Rich is using in the park or think you have a different explanation for the longboard used, please let us know in the comments. Thanks!

Symbolism in Wes Anderson Movies

Colin Marshall recently commented on about a series of RogerEbert.com video essays on Wes Anderson films. These are my comments on his comments, but mostly it’s about the symbolism I see in Wes Anderson films.

Wes Anderson Suitcases

  • Suitcases – first few movies they are always silver, last few canvas; they are always matching and of different sizes – like different aged members of a family; they could obviously literally represent emotional baggage, but more likely represent the ties (family) that bind us and that we always carry with us (throughout all films). In the trailer for The Grand Budapest Hotel I noticed the hotel is full of suitcases – as if Wes Anderson is trying to tell us something – like this movie is all of his other movies combined into one hotel full of suitcases.
  • Guns – Bottle Rocket and Life Aquatic both had hand guns, but Mr Fox, Royal Tenenbaums, and Moonrise Kingdom all featured rifles. I think the obvious nod here is to violence, but I almost view it as a contrasting feature to the artistic, loveable characters – it lends to the ironic, comedic tone of the movie underscored by the understating the guns are given in each scene. They serve both as contrast and as comedy.
  • Binoculars – the commentator mentioned this as referencing Star Wars, but I think it’s much more than that. When you look through binoculars, there are many things happening
    • Your power is magnified – you can see farther, which gives you more power
    • You are symbolically looking into the future – children are often seen using binoculars – they want to see what’s coming. Adults do not want to know what’s coming because they are not looking forward to it.
    • You are seeing a mini-movie – what you see through binoculars is like a mini, personal movie inside a movie, which is a metaphor for Wes Anderson films, which are movies about making movies.
  • Trains – trains are featured prominently in Darjeeling Limited and The Grand Budapest Hotel. They are both used to literally move the plot forward and as a way to showcase Wes Anderson’s iconic “dollhouse” sets.