Friday, November 17, 2006
STRANGER THAN FICTION
Written by Zach Helm
Directed by Mark Forster
“Life is stranger than fiction,” or so the saying goes. Borrowing from the expression, Mark Forster’s STRANGER THAN FICTION is about one man’s life that has become the subject of soon-to-be published fiction. An as yet undetermined narrator announces at the very start that, “This is a story about a man named Harold Crick.” That narrator is revealed to be author Karen Eiffel (the always absorbing Emma Thompson), whose previous novels have all ended with her protagonists dying to serve the story’s greater purpose. Somehow, her voice has found its way from the pages that tell Harold’s story to the head of a man actually named Harold Crick (Will Ferrell). As she pushes through the novel that has taken her a decade to complete, Harold begins to hear her voice wherever he goes. As she points out his obsessive-compulsive behaviour, he begins to question the strict structure that has kept his life in order for years. When Eiffel announces that he is unknowingly spiraling towards his imminent death, he has heard enough. The funny thing is Harold’s death was imminent before someone told him it was. He just needed someone to remind him that he should probably get around to doing some living while he was still alive.
But is this actually a story about Harold Crick? Is it not just as much a story about Karen Eiffel? After all, she knows the story she is telling so well that her words and voice have torn some line in the fabric of the universe to make it into Harold’s head. I don’t know how likely that is in real life but I’m pretty sure it would never happen if there weren’t an intense cerebral connection between the two parties involved or if he weren’t a complete fabrication of one’s imagination. At first glance, Crick and Eiffel seem like people on entirely opposite ends of the spectrum. After a closer look, they are clearly in opposition to each other but they inhabit the very same spectrum. Both are shown as obsessive-compulsive people. Harold counts his brush strokes and goes to bed at exactly the same time each night. Karen lives a reclusive life in a starkly white apartment, extinguishing her cigarettes in spit-damp tissues she tucks away in her pockets. Both attempt to exert high levels of restraint in their lives to maintain the illusion that they command the direction their lives will take, one through chaos and the other through control. It is also a convenient way to avoid experiencing anything frighteningly unknown.
Eiffel struggles with how to kill Crick for most of the film. How do you kill someone to make a literary point when their life barely has any relevance to begin with? Meanwhile, Harold’s recent bout with schizophrenia has him seeing how the tiniest changes in his life can make it all the more exciting. Funny how the knowledge that death may be around the corner acts as a good kick in the ass. The connection between Crick and Eiffel also exposes their attitudes towards life and death while helping each of them heal their apprehensions towards both realities. Crick had conveniently eliminated the possibility of death from his calculated existence. Eiffel’s eerie fascination with death had stopped her from seeing her own possibilities for happiness in life. As the two become more aware of the other’s existence, and subsequently more comfortable with that, they each begin to see what they were not seeing prior. Life will not be and will never seem worth living if you don’t take risks, no matter how small they may be; from wearing a sweater instead of a tie for a change to stepping outside your apartment and meeting new people.
STRANGER THAN FICTION is smart without being superior, funny without being asinine. Forster’s previous work has either bored me (MONSTER’S BALL), frustrated me (STAY) or filled my heart with warmth and my eyes with tears (FINDING NEVERLAND). Here he creates a poignant piece about a woman telling the story of a man because its easier than telling her own story. Her real problem with killing Harold Crick is that she no longer knows if she wants to. Killing Harold would just mean metaphorically killing herself again. Writing Harold’s newfound appreciation for life has sparked her own and Forster hopes her reminder will be one to us as well. Not to sound too morbid but our deaths are as imminent as Harold’s. The film’s subtle layers expose a simple insight about the distance between our lives and the stories we tell about our lives. These stories are told to create meaning and give shape but we all run the risk of missing out in the process if we don’t allow for the unexpected.