Living by the Watch: Stranger Than Fiction

By Kai-Arne Zimny

Pho­to Cred­it: miracc

Yes, ok. So the film is twelve years old? It’s fun­ny and clever, and it fea­tures some of the best actors and actress­es Hol­ly­wood has to offer. (How often do you get to see Emma Thomp­son, Dustin Hoff­man, Mag­gie Gyl­len­hal, and Queen Lat­i­fah in one sin­gle movie?) In short: Stranger Than Fic­tion is a clas­sic. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it’s a clas­sic not many peo­ple know. Well, we’re going to change this now.

To be quite hon­est, the film’s begin­ning is a bit strange. The audi­ence first sees Harold Crick (Will Fer­rell) and his best bud­dy, a wrist­watch. Each night at 11:17, Harold goes to bed, and each morn­ing he ties his tie in a sin­gle Wind­sor knot ( instead of a dou­ble), sav­ing forty-three sec­onds before he gets on the 8:17 bus to his work­place at the IRS. Work­ing in a tax office seems to fit his per­son­al­i­ty – Harold is in love with num­bers. And come to think of it: His wrist­watch is his only friend.

For twelve years, noth­ing has ever dis­rupt­ed Harold’s rou­tine until one day, while brush­ing every one of his thir­ty-two teeth with sev­en­ty-six strokes, he hears a voice nar­rat­ing his very action. Puz­zled and unable to locate the source of the voice, Harold tries to go about his day’s work. While inspect­ing a tax-delin­quent own­er of a bak­ery (Mag­gy Gyl­len­hall), he again hears a voice from the off nar­rat­ing what he does, “accu­rate­ly, and with a bet­ter vocab­u­lary.” Since the voice also hints at his immi­nent death, “lit­tle did Harold know that events had been set in motion that would lead to his immi­nent death,” he starts to sus­pect that he is a char­ac­ter caught in a nov­el. While he con­sults a pro­fes­sor of lit­er­a­ture (Dustin Hoff­man) to fig­ure out what’s going on, nov­el­ist Karen Eif­fel (Emma Thomp­son) strug­gles with writer’s block, unable to fig­ure out how to kill off the pro­tag­o­nist of her nov­el-in-progress, an IRS agent called Harold Crick….

Stranger Than Fic­tion is a comedic dra­ma about small events with big con­se­quences, the lim­it­ing nature of self-inflict­ed rou­tines, and the lib­er­at­ing pow­er sweep­ing you off your feet when break­ing them. As a view­er of the spec­ta­cle, you might won­der until the very end whether you’re watch­ing a com­e­dy or a tragedy, just as Harold him­self is try­ing to assess whether his life is the for­mer or the lat­ter. And, more impor­tant­ly, whether he can change the plot of the nov­el – and thus save his life.

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