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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