Secret Life jf Walter Mitty: Film and Original Story Comparison

The movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was filmed in the 21st century, while the short story of the same title was written in the first half of the 20th century. Even though the short story by James Thurber was published in 1939, it transcends generations. Many people relate to the fictional character Walter Mitty. They see themselves in him when he daydreams or when he is in his mundane life. Nonetheless, I believe there is a substantial difference between the film’s adaptation of Walter Mitty and the original main character in the short story. The contrast between the romantic relationship, character development and daydreams of the adaptation and original is blatant.

First and foremost, the romantic relationship in the written story and the motion picture is completely unlike one another. Mitty in the movie is not in a relationship, while Walter in the story is married. During the first minute of the film, the viewers understand he has a love interest he seeks to date. Throughout the movie, the main male character and the main female character seem to fancy one another, whereas Thurber’s Walter and his wife do not even seem to love one another. Walter asks his wife if she never realizes he is daydreaming at the end of the short story. She responded by “I’m going to take your temperature.” (Thurber, James) She thought he was crazy. It is clear he daydreams a lot, but his wife oddly never noticed.

As I mentioned previously, there seems to be no spark of love in the short story. After daydreaming, Walter said that she, his wife, seemed grossly unfamiliar. His daydreams seem to exist so he can escape the grips of his wife. When he daydreams being in the court as a convict, he dreams of another woman in his arm. Meanwhile, in the film, Mitty usually daydreams about Cheryl Melhoff, Walter’s love interest.

One of the focal points in the film is his love for Cheryl Melhoff. But, in the short story, one of the focal points is Walter’s overbearing wife. There are women in their life, but each have a different role in the story.

Second of all, Walter Mitty’s character is dynamic and round in movie, but in short story it is static and flat. At the start of the movie, Walter is shy and keeps his thoughts and emotions to himself. Later on, in the film, after his travels, he opens up and speaks his mind. For example, he daydreamed about standing up for himself when the director manager of the transition from magazine to the internet, Ted Hendricks, mocked him. In the end, he stood up for himself and his staff. He rebukes Ted Hendrick for disrespecting the staff who helped grow the company. However, James Thurber kept Walter Mitty the same throughout the story. He is a shy man who no one takes seriously; not even his wife when he mentioned he thinks a lot. Before that, a stranger on the street mocked him when he said, 'puppy biscuit.' His character is the same from the beginning until the end.

Another reason is the difference in their daydreaming habits. The screenplay writer, Steve Conrad, created a main character who at one-point stops daydreaming. James Thurber created a character who daydreams until the end. The film's Walter Mitty stopped fantasizing when his adventurous dreams became a reality. However, because the short story's Walter Mitty never becomes the character in his fantasies, unlike Walter Mitty in the film, he never stops daydreaming. The last few sentences of the short story describe him doing such action.

In a nearly two-hour Hollywood movie, the character must grow into someone divergent from who they were in the beginning. We can see many instants of that during the whole film. However, it is difficult to create growth in a character of a short story like James Thurber’s Walter Mitty.

Lastly, what triggers their daydream and his daydreams general differ from each other. In the short story, something in his real-life always triggers his daydreams. The hospital building, he drove past by, provoked his first daydream. Then, the newsboy shouting about the Waterbury trial caused him to fantasize about him being the culprit. Afterward, a magazine title prompted his mind to imagine a scenario where he is a Captain pilot in World War II. Whereas, the Walter Mitty in the motion picture seems to daydream out of the blue. In his first daydream, he saves a dog from an exploding building. However, there is no cue given to the viewers to know when will he daydream. He randomly chose to fantasize about his heroic act when he was calling someone. The viewers would not have predicted that scenario from only his phone call.

As I mentioned before, Walter Mitty's daydreams are centred around his love interest, Cheryl Melhoff. For example, a daydream of his where Cheryl sang helped him find the courage to jump on a helicopter. From there, he continued his quest to find Sean O'Connell and retrieve negative 25. In short, she was his motivation. However, Walter Mitty's, in the short story, daydreams never mentioned his wife. His fantasies are meant to escape his dull and ordinary life, which includes his wife, who is regularly over his shoulders. Walter Mitty in the movie feels heroic when he imagines Cheryl and therefore daydreams a lot about her. Whereas in the short story, Walter feels like his wife's servant by doing her errands. He does not feel like a hero with his wife, so Mrs. Mitty is not pictured in his dreams.

The screenplay writer took another route with the way he wanted to portray Walter Mitty's daydream. Like the majority of Hollywood movies, he created a love story which did not exist in the short story. The screenplay writer did not also include any signs that cause the character to daydream.

All in all, the movie directs itself away from the short story to fit the 21st-century taste and to especially meet the classical Hollywood portrayal of a film. Therefore, the motion picture is based on James Thurber's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, yet there is nearly no resemblance between the original Walter Mitty and the adapted one. We see those distinctions in their relationship with a woman, the way the two characters grow or do not grow, and the way they daydream.

16 August 2021
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