How does the movie "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (2013) cinematically and stylistically convey the feeling of freedom, independence and a great journey?

Hausarbeit, 2014

13 Seiten, Note: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction
1.1 Elements of Film Analysis
1.1.1 Camera/Shots
1.1.2 Dialogue and Sounds
1.1.3 Music
1.1.4 Space, Lighting, Color
1.2 Basics of Travel Writing

2. Analysis and Interpretation
2.1 Scene: 00:35:38 00:38:17
2.2 Scene: 00:77:15 00:80:42

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliography

1. Introduction

In the year 2013[1], actor and director Ben Stiller adapted the popular short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”[2] from James Thurber for the big screen. In order to bring the story about a chronic day-dreamer who sets out to experience amazing adventures to life, Stiller uses almost every resources modem cinema has to offer.

This term paper enters into the question with the help of which stylistic and cinematic devices the movie The Secret Life WalterMitty (2013)[3], in its moments of the protagonist's travels, conveys the feeling of a great journey and furthermore gives the viewer a sense of independence and freedom. It was created as part of the seminar Travel Writing in the winter semester 2013/14 at the University ofBamberg.

To first outline a theoretical basis for the analysis, in sub chapter 1.1, the relevant methods of film analysis, with a strong emphasis on the individual construction elements of film (camera, music, lighting, etc.), are explained. Since a movie, according to Faulstich, is always an “aesthetic product” and is therefore considered as being “literature”[4], sub chapter 1.2 concludes the ideas of the literary genre of travel writing so that an analogy between recurring motives and themes from the genre can be highlighted in the movie. In chapter 2, the previously presented subject matters of film analysis are displayed and analyzed in selected scenes of the movie which aim at the creation of the before mentioned sentiments. Chapter 3 summarizes the results of the analysis. All sources used may be found in the bibliography.

1.1 Elements of Film Analysis

This section of the paper looks at approaches to film analysis only briefly and focuses on the formal construction elements of a movie rather than providing an in-depth exposition. The analysis in chapter 2 will also focus on action and characters.

1.1.1 Camera/Shots

The shot is the smallest unit of a movie. Primarily, there are 8 shots sizes we differentiate between: Extreme long shot, long shot, medium long shot, full shot, medium shot, close shot, closeup, extreme close-up.[5]

Not only the size, also the perspective of the shot plays an important role. There are five categories of perspectives: Extreme low camera, law shot, normal camera height., high shot., extreme high shot.[6]

Different shots, perspectives as well as camera movement and the composition are crucial tools that allow film makers to give an image meaning.

1.1.2 Dialogue and Sounds

The dialogue in movies has multiple functions. It for example can develop the story, give background information or contribute to the characterization of figures.[7] Sounds are often not recognized as intentionally as the dialogue. They, too, have several functions like the increase of realism in a scene or the intensification of the same. Often, sounds just complete the visually transported information of the picture.[8] Then again, an unusual sound design (or no sound at all) can contribute to the characterization of the world the characters live in.[9]

1.1.3 Music

Music is one of the elements of film that has the ability to address almost more than any other the viewer's emotions. It has to be distinguished between music on and off screen. Music in a movie is often part of the action, whereas film music usually has the function to subliminally emotionalize the action.[10] It has the power to set the tone for a scene, but it can accomplish far more. Faulstich alone outlines 20 different functions of music in a movie.[11]

1.1.4 Space, Lighting, Color

In film terminology, space is comparable to the space of a theater stage. Foreground, middleground and background can be used to tell a story and create meaning.[12] In the case of travel literature, it might be used to display the vastness oflandscapes. Lighting is important in so far that it can dramatically change the atmosphere of a scene. Apart from this, it creates shadows which can be especially helpful in darker moods. The colors of an image play an almost more important role than lighting as they have an immediate impact on the viewer's perception. Sometimes rather subconsciously, other times quite obviously, for example if a movie deliberately resorts to blackand-white images like Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List.[13]

Travel Writing can be defined as “narrative accounts written about an individual or group's encounter with another place. These writings [...] recount in detail the writer's experiences and perceptions of that place.“[14] Stories often are a “personal account, interwoven with facts, description and observation.”[15] Furthermore, a “narrative thread should run throughout the piece”.[16] Interestingly, the comparison of movies about traveling and the genre of travel writing works very well. In fact, author and travel writer Giles Foden from The Guardian writes that “travel writing benefits from a cinematic approach, in that you need to vary the focus wide lens for setting and landscape; medium lens for context and colour; zoom lens for detail and narrative and switch between the views in a piece.“[17] “Show, not tell, wherever possible.”[18], that seems to be a rule of thumb among experienced travel writers.

Generally speaking, travel writing is supposed to take the reader on ajoumey and make him experience the voyage himself through detailed description of surroundings, places, people and everything of relevance for the story. This kind of explicit description also works in fictional travel writing and the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, in some passages, might be understood as fictional travel writing.

2. Analysis and Interpretation

This part of the paper looks in detail at the composition of two selected scenes, specifically regarding cinematic and stylistic elements like camera work, sound design and lighting. The analysis focuses also on development of action and character.

It has to be noted that a scene is a “relative unit”[19] and its edges cannot always be clearly determined. The specific scenes which are analyzed in this part, could also be understood as segments of the movie consisting out of several scenes. For the sake of comprehensibility, these segments or sequences will, from here on in, be referred to only as scene as it is also the most common term.

Protocol of action : As WalterMitty learns that an indispensablepicture is missing, he makes the choice to go on the searchfor it himself andflies to Greenland.

Walter Mitty enters the negative asset archive of Life Magazine. He has been working here for 16 years. A darker tone, mostly quiet, blue colors and solely static shots in a normal camera height give the impression of monotonous, daily routines. The feeling is conveyed that Walter Mitty works in a safe, protected environment from which he experiences life only through pictures. A side tracking shot accompanies him to his workplace, showing the well-filled shelves with old negatives. The protagonist comes from an analogue world and does not necessarily fit into the digital format that Life is turned into.

The next shot shows the protagonist talking to Hernando. The focus of the image shifts at Mitty's colleague in the background, who unambiguously clarifies that the picture in question is not in the archive or elsewhere nearby. Off camera, we hear Hernando saying: “This never happens.” The message to the viewer is clear: This is an absolutely exceptional case which requires unusual measures. With the changes at his workplace and thus the breakdown of his everyday life, even Walter Mitty starts to realize that. A close-up shot takes us into his mind. He is clearly contemplating about what his next step towards finding the missing picture should be. As he turns his head, the focus shifts to a black-and-white photography of the popular photographer Sean O'Connell, then again back at him. The subtle, melodic soundtrack that was playing in the background until now, stops and as the movie cuts back to the picture on the wall, O'Connell's head is moving, looking back at Mitty. We see the protagonist's surprise, which is now accompanied by a mysterious, quiet soundtrack. This enigmatic undertone is complemented through a silent wind sound effect. The subsequent shot shows the picture in detail and presents a medium shot of O'Connell who, seen from the perspective of Mitty, with a gesture asks him to figuratively step into the picture and into his world.

This scene is important and relevant for our research topic because it has two particular functions: First of all, it creates a contrast to the scene that follows. It once again shows the viewer quite plainly that Walter Mitty has been living a secure and protected life without any risks. Secondly, it gives the protagonist a reason to go out into the world and experience his own adventures, instead of merely observing them. Simply because he has no other choice.

Now, there is nothing to keep him settled anymore. It is a feeling of a departure for new shores. At this moment the song Wake Up by Arcade Fire[20] sets in. Of course not only textual with its title, but also with its strong guitar sounds, it captures this exact emotion of departure.



[2] Thurber, James. The secret life ofWalterMitty. The Creative Company, 2008.

[3] The Secret Life ofWalterMitty. D.: Ben Stiller. USA, 2013.

[4] Faulstich, Wemer. GrundkursFilmanalyse. Vol. 2341. UTB, 2013. P.18

[5] Ibid, p.115-120

[6] Faulstich, Wemer. GrundkursFilmanalyse. Vol. 2341. UTB, 2013. P.120-123

[7] Ibid, p.134,135.

[8] Ibid, p.139.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid, p. 141.

[11] Ibid, p. 143, 144.

[12] Ibid, p. 146.

[13] Schindler's list. Universal Studios, 1993.

[14] Van Vuuren, Melissa S.: TravelLiterature.

[15] Bowes, Gemma and Guardian travel writers. Tipsfor travel writing. 2011.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Faulstich, Wemer. GrundkursFilmanalyse. Vol. 2341. UTB, 2013. P.77

[20] Funeral. A./C.: Arcade Fire. Rough Trade/Beggars Group (Indigo), 2005.

Ende der Leseprobe aus 13 Seiten


How does the movie "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (2013) cinematically and stylistically convey the feeling of freedom, independence and a great journey?
Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg
Travel Writing
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
secret life of walter mitty, walter mitty, analysis, film analysis, travel writing, journey, definition, grundkurs filmanalyse
Arbeit zitieren
Marcel Wolf (Autor), 2014, How does the movie "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (2013) cinematically and stylistically convey the feeling of freedom, independence and a great journey?, München, GRIN Verlag,


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