INT. GREENLAW 302 -- AFTERNOON As the movie starts playing, Harrison turns his attention to the screen. NARRATOR (V.O.) So the projector thrust him onto the mercy of the immitigable path of fate. For as he fixes his gaze onto the screen, little did he know that this simple, seemingly innocuous act would result in him appreciating a film that he disregarded three years ago on a flight.
Watching Harold Crick timing everything with his wristwatch, I was surprised to recall that Stranger Than Fiction was played on a big screen on a flight I took to California in 2016. Maybe it was the lack of sound and the uncomfortable inflight conditions that left me unimpressed. However, with a well-written script brimmed with surprising turns and extraordinary acting that preserves the vast majority of highlights, Stranger Than Fiction is actually a film that is truly worth watching.
First off, Stranger Than Fiction has an exciting plot. Some people might expect a film that has literature as a significant component to be tedious, but this film distinguishes itself from the ordinary. Just as we are certain that Harold is in a tragedy after knowing his “imminent death” and witnessing the demolition of his apartment, he appears to be a comedy as he starts dating Ana. Similarly, just as we are ready for the tragic ending, it turns out that the one that dies tragically is his wristwatch. An excellent plot should also portray characters in a way that displays their personalities. Stranger Than Fiction effectively depicts Harold Crick as a seemingly over-meticulous person who is inherently kind and Ana Pascal as a rebellious anarchist with a caring side (as we see when she offers a homeless person food and bakes Harold cookies). At first sight, they appear to be two people with very distinct personalities, but it is exactly those differences that give rise to their mutual attractions and eventually build rapport between them.
Talking about the plot, we cannot ignore the screenplay which is a great literary work itself. The frequent switch of places and characters enables the simultaneous development of story from two sides, Harold Crick’s and Karen Eiffel’s. Literary language such as “little did he know” and “deep and endless ocean” has made reading the screenplay a pleasure. The screenplay is also sprinkled with gentle humor. His interaction with the old lady about whether it’s Wednesday and the way he yells at the sky regarding his death show that Harold is a frank person whose straightforwardness makes him lovely sometimes. I do think a few small details in the screenplay can be portrayed better in the film. For instance, more close-ups should be given to the watch, especially those moments that humanize the watch. Also, “her lips part” and “his fingers twitch”, which occurred at least two times in the play, might be worth some shots in the film. Nevertheless, small blemishes do not change the fact that both the screenplay and the film are outstanding overall.
What I like the most about Stranger Than Fiction is actually its theme. The film explores the concept of life. Is life strange? Are we in a comedy or a tragedy? I do think life is strange in that there is no way for us to be figure out if we are in a comedy or a tragedy. Edgar Allan Poe talks about reading humans as books in his book Man of the Crowd. As far as I am concerned, we can read other people’s personalities through observations and interactions, but the hardest person to read might ironically be ourselves. We try to understand ourselves through our interactions and we change our behaviors for a better self, but unlike literature works, it is not apparent what genres our life stories are in. We try to attribute failures to bad luck, thinking we might be in a tragedy. But tragedies can turn into comedies and vice versa. We use a lifetime to understand ourselves, but even deaths might not be the final revelation to the question of comedy or tragedy. I consider most lives to be a mix of both. Probably that is something that “does not permit itself to be read.”
At the end, the book reveals that life is not about where you end up at. It is about finding happiness and gaining satisfaction in the most subtle things. Being in a tragedy doesn’t mean it is the end of the world—there is still consolation in sugar cookies; feeling alone doesn’t mean life is boring—pick up a guitar and you’ll be happy…
Stranger Than Fiction has made me think beyond life. It encourages me to consider the idea of destiny. In the film, every major character in Karen Eiffel’s books has a destiny. Do we all have a destiny? Harold Crick thinks he will keep living his mundane life as an IRS agent, but he has made his life more interesting than he has ever imagined by discovering his passion in music and falling in love with Ana. Fate likes to take people on interesting paths, and Harold’s biggest destiny might be his “imminent death,” a heroic act that would be remembered. If we all have a destiny, who has control over it? Harold’s is under Karen Eiffel’s control, but the control to ours is often a mystery.
Last but not least, Stranger Than Fiction elaborates on future and time. Is it a good thing to know about the future? Apparently, the existence of a narrator in Harold’s life is not something he is glad about. Is there anything we can do to prevent the future if we know it? But even with Poppet’s superpower in The Night Circus, there might not be anything we can do.
Life can indeed be stranger than fiction. But even if that is the case, after all, the narrator/author of our lives is not Karen Eiffel or Zach Helm (he only wrote Stranger Than Fiction, not the stranger than fiction aspect of our lives) but ourselves.