Sunday, 22 February 2015

Stranger than fiction

This is a film about life and death - and love and hope. It's also the first film I've seen Will Ferrell perform a role which I actually like, he's the character Harold Crick and not just Will Ferrell! This is a clever film - well conceived and exquisitely scripted. The acting is pretty good too - especially from Emma Thompson and Maggie Gyllenhaal - oh Dustin Hoffman turns in a compelling performance too.

Set in Chicago, Crick is an IRS (Tax) Agent tasked with checking tax returns and investigating anomalies. His life is one seemingly endless, dull and tedious routine. He counts the steps to cross the road. He arrives at the bus stop as the bus does - everyday. He can perform complex mathematical sums instantly in his head. His life is governed by numbers. His only relationship is with an equally nerdy colleague Dave.

And so life goes on for Harold, relentless day after relentless day. Then one day he realises he hears a voice (Thompson) which is actually narrating his life in real time. If he stops what ever it is he's doing, the narration stops too. He sees his doctor and then a counsellor who is convinced he is schizophrenic which Harold denies. When the narration discloses that Harold will die to serve the plot, he seeks help from literature Professor Jules Hilbert (Hoffman) to identify the author.

Parallel with this is an investigation Harold is conducting into the tax affairs of Ana Pascal (Gyllenhaal) who is a feisty Harvard Law School drop-out now running her own cookie cafe. As Harold works at avoiding a literary death so this story becomes entangled with his self-actualisation and an awkwardly growing relationship with Ana. I won't spoil the story for you or the outcome.

Firstly this film is an excellent portrayal of observed human behaviour. It is about how contemporary life can entrap us in a dull routine that depersonalises us and how we can lose touch with our humanity. It was Irenaeus who said that "The glory of God is human being fully alive" and Harold sets out on that journey, initially with faltering steps but through the goodwill of those around him he gathers pace. This demonstrates our need of interdependence and shows how we are able to do more together than we can on our own.

Another strand of the film explores how people take responsibility for their actions and how coincidence can produce unintended outcomes. It is also a film about love, about giving, generosity and not giving up when that would be the easy option. For a comedy this film explores a wide range of deeper issues and through laughter makes them more readily accessible. The script by Zach Helm is sensitive and very clever - it is extremely well written.

Towards the end, Emma Thompson's character gives us this piece of narration:

"As Harold took a bite of Bavarian sugar cookie, he finally felt as if everything was going to be ok. Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies. And, fortunately, when there aren't any cookies, we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin, or a kind and loving gesture, or subtle encouragement, or a loving embrace, or an offer of comfort, not to mention hospital gurneys and nose plugs, an uneaten Danish, soft-spoken secrets, and Fender Stratocasters, and maybe the occasional piece of fiction. And we must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties, which we assume only accessorise our days, are effective for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives. I know the idea seems strange, but I also know that it just so happens to be true."

It would be possible to watch this film and receive its story at face value - and there would be nothing wrong with doing that. However, it will repay many times over a little reflective digging and a consideration of our own journey through this life. I commend it to you and award it 8/10. Let us give thanks to God for Bavarian sugar cookies!

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