Stranger Than Fiction is nothing if not quirky delight of a film. I loved the idea of a man’s life being narrated and him hearing this narration. But it gets so much more interesting when he discovers that this narrator plans to kill him. Aside from the unique story, I found myself learning some valuable life lessons from this film.
1. Routine leads to a mundane existence
Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) lives his life according to routine. When brushing his teeth he counts brush strokes, he goes to bed at the same time every night and catches the same bus every morning. He is basically living a self-inflicted Groundhog Day.
What’s worse is that he is content with it. He doesn’t share his life with anyone. He doesn’t go out for beers with colleagues. He is not romantically involved with anyone, mostly because he does not make the time to connect with anyone on a social level. He lacks ambition and doesn’t make the most of his life until he realises someone else might be able to pull his proverbial plug. I thought about how purely unsatisfying it must be to do the same thing every day and call that living. Sometimes changing things up is a good thing.
2. Perspective can be the difference between life and death… literally
If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want me to spoil it for you then stop reading now.
One of the key life lessons I’ve learnt is that perspective can change everything. Famous writer Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) who is known for killing off the main characters in her novels, is located by Harold Crick who tells her that if shes kills him off, he really will die. Because he exists. And having someone play God, especially with your life, is bad. Obviously.
Of course, Karen does not want to kill Harold. You know, morality and all. But she knows that for literary reasons she has to consider it. She writes the ending and has Harold read it. But Harold selflessly declares that the story needs to be written as is, even if that means he will die. He stepped outside himself to realise the story can only be told this way and decides to take one for the team. This would mean his death.
But Karen simply cannot do it, because Harold is real. His life is not fiction. This change is perspective would mean that he lives. And this has more impact than anything else. Even if it ironically means a less than perfect ending.
3. The correct path might be the detour
Life dictates that we have a plan, devise a path and follow it. Inevitably we might take some detours along the way but ultimately this path that we created is still the path… right? Maybe not.
In Stranger Than Fiction, we discover that the detour might just be the right path all along. Crick’s love interest in the film, Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal) was in law school and made cookies for her study groups only to find that everyone loved her baking and that she found joy in it,so she opened a bakery.
Harold, due to his problem of knowing he is going to die, aims to take his mind off it by continuing to work as an IRS agent, but this time to audit Pascal’s bakery. He immerses himself in this, and more importantly in Pascal, and in a sense deviates from his own path (or lack thereof, let’s be honest) to forge a new path. One that features a baker he happens to fall in love with, as opposed to, you know, counting brush strokes.
4. Fear of death teaches you to live
At the beginning of this film, Harold is alive but is not really living. He has very little ambition – if any – and is satisfied. That is, until he is made aware of the fact that a writer is going to kill him. With this comes the revelation that Harold is worried about dying but never really lived.
This encourages Harold to make the most our of his last days on Earth: he learns to play the guitar, pursues Ana Pascal and falls in love. It is in the fear of death that Harold finally realises how to live.
About the author: Dean is the narrator of his own life. And you are the narrator of yours. So make it a good story.