What I think is most significant about the film Stranger than Fiction is its initially pathetic, then somehow convincing but ultimately incomplete ending which I characterize to be a life-is-so-merry-and-poetic-so-let-us-all-embrace-one-another type of humanism. I think that this film is not the type where you think too hard about its plot and its supposed implications to the message of the film. I think the “intricacies” of the plot of this one (the novel within a movie mode) are precisely just the narrative twists infused to deliver an otherwise passé message.
While watching the film at the first parts and thinking about what it throws at me, I imagined myself being inclined to problematize the possibilities it shows. For instance, the obtrusions of “fiction” into “real” life and the general complications involving the two, supposedly separate entities. Nearly at the onset, I was reminded of the Brechtian “alienation effect” and all those post-structural artistic techniques that are supposed to poke at the readers’ immersion to the “fiction” they are reading or viewing. There is a “narrator” narrating the events that are happening in Harold Crick’s life and eventually we will find out that these narrations are from the actual novel “Taxes and Death” by Karen Eiffel. But I can firmly say that this is not the film’s attempt to interrogate the relationship between reality and fiction; this is not an attempt to say something about this relationship. As we can judge from the film, this is merely a coincidence employed in the film to drive its plot forward.
Ultimately, what we have is a humanistic tear-jerking type that almost effectively waxed poetic and utilized the formulaic approach on rendering the lesson of the story. Karen Eiffel changed the ending of what could have been the masterpiece of her entire literary career since she cannot take to “kill” a man who knew of his death beforehand, had the ability to forestall the death, and yet did not do so.
This film has cute moments, nevertheless.
Will Ferrell, more known for his roles in comedy films, suddenly turned serious and almost romantic. Maggie Gyllenhaal is charming in almost all of the times. Very pronounced is that humanistic connection with a fellow human being, albeit in the kind of relationship that is, despite being the most minute in scope is still difficult to achieve – romantic relationships. They talked late in the evening after Harold sorted Ana Pascals’ (Gyllenhaal) tax files. She baked cookies for him, and they had moments. Eventually, perhaps thought unlikely at the kickoff, they went together. And then Harold faced his fate as “written” by Eiffel until humanistic mushiness neared surfeit to alter its course. Hence, Eiffel’s book’s “poetic” message: the interesting, sometimes beautiful, sometimes disgusting connections among all remotest of things and how they impact the course of our lives; as in the case of Harold Crick, a wristwatch saved him.
This is worn-out butterfly effect that eggs on us to be more wary and thoughtful in making decisions and doing actions as we can neither calculate nor predict their consequences in the future. And so what both the film and Eiffel’s novel suggests is a lovely type of humanism that is, however beautiful, seems to be unlikely to happen at a larger space and time. What kind of humanistic ardor does the film hints at is tacitly inscribed in these concluding lines:
“Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in helplessness 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 of loving gesture, or a subtle encouragement, or a loving embrace, or an offer of comfort.”
Of course, this has validity. And personally, I am sometimes a cutesy proponent of this kind of broad, occasionally vague humanism. But the film shrouds the other factors that determine our lives and the way we react to what it proffers – cosmic forces, personal peculiarity and social realities as produced and shaped by dominant economic and political agents. This is where most films fall into: too much faith in humanity that they single it out and supposed to summon its potential to be virtuous and kind without considering the bigger setting where they operate.