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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Movie Defense and Theological Treatise: Stranger Than Fiction

Carol and I went to see another movie sans child over the past weekend. It's Stranger Than Fiction, which is a film where Harold Crick, played by Will Ferrell, hears a voice in his head. It also features Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, Linda Hunt, Tom Hulce (all but unrecognizable) and Tony Hale (Arrested Development's "Buster" Bluth).

We liked it very much. You'll laugh, you may cry. Go see it. I particularly related to the baker who feels cynical about her government, played by Gyllenhaal.

One of the criticisms I've read about this film is that the Zach Helm-penned work seems very much in the style of writer Charlie Kaufman. In fact, the CRITICAL CONSENSUS at is:
"A fun, whimsical tale about about an office drone trying to save his life from his narrator. The cast obviously is having a blast with the script, but Stranger Than Fiction's tidy lessons make this metaphysical movie feel like Charlie Kaufman-lite."


I've seen three Kauffman films: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), which was my favorite movie of that year, and which Carol also loved; Adaptation (2002), which seemed to lose its way, both Carol and I felt; and the very fine Being John Malkovich (1999). Like "Stranger Than Fiction", they're all "quirky", in-the- head films, but the similarities are superficial, I feel.

If anything, it is more like The Truman Show (1998), written by Andrew Niccol. Both feature a character played by an actor best known as a comedian - Jim Carrey in "Truman" - and both feature a force who controls the action, a character who is a godlike being. The powerful entity in The Truman Show with the not-insignificant name of Christof, played by Ed Harris, is a reflection of predestination, or, in the words of the Messiah in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, "Everything is fixed, and you can't change it." Christof, when Truman discovers the secret, gets to say one of my all-time favorite lines in all moviedom, "Cue the sun!" (A former pastor once did a sermon entitled "Cue the Son" after this movie came out.) Christof is a remote, calculating character whose existence Truman is unaware of for most of the film.

Whereas, Ana Eiffel, the neurotic, chain-smoking novelist suffering from writer's block, played by Thompson, is very present in Harold Crick's life. He hears her all the time, though he doesn't quite know what it means. As with most people who hear voices, others think he's crazy, but ultimately, there is dialogue between creator (and especially her surrogate) and her creation. I don't want to give away plot points, but I've assigned theological role for the characters played by Hoffman, Latifah, Hulce, Hunt, and even Harold's watch. Maybe I'll address this after the movie's been out a while.

The other main criticisms are whether it's a comedy or a tragedy, which I find unnecessarily reductivist (in other words, what does it matter?), and the ending, which I think the movie comes by honestly.
A positive review from USA Today.

Tom the Dog loved it!

The NPR reviewer is a fan, too.


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