James Thurber is one of those writers that is wittier than audiences realize and more relevant than his era could ever realize. His 1939 critically acclaimed short story, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, unearthed the future side-effects of the modern urban lifestyle. The mundaneness of everyday life provides no escape for poor title character Walter Mitty; yet he possesses the inevitably human portal of fantasy and daydream. Mitty is constantly aloof and driven to a silent madness by the lack of excitement and the crushing blandness of his life. He finds salvation through imagining his destruction, or at the very least coming close to it, in incredible adventures. These wild adventures do not add spice to his stubbornly urban life, but they are the spice of his life.
Thurber’s sharp writing allows the contrasts of imagination and uniformity, life and death, to be transported from the late 1930s to the internet era. The irony of this simple short story espousing the importance of imagination in the information age is enjoyably clear to the reader. Thurber does not need to physically transport Mitty out of his urban emotional construct in order for the character to gain a glimpse of the freedom he yearns for; instead, Thurber provides an escape within the urban setting: imagination. The minimalist need to envision an escape from the confines of our worlds and our personal shortcomings is being readapted for a new generation, in a medium fit for a new generation. Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty adapts the setting seamlessly to the scenic modern urban world; one that still confines, confuses, and cheers us on.