Friday, September 11, 2009

Stranger than Fiction

Watched the movie, Stranger than Fiction, last night. I didn't realise my son had recorded it onto our hard drive recently, and was pleased to catch up with it.

Will Ferrell does a great job as the very uptight hero, Harold Crick, who would have got on with his exceptionally boring life if it hadn't been for the fact that he's occasionally begun to hear a detailed narration of his life. Somehow he communicates boring without being boring; he's quite endearing, in fact. His narrator is the ever-wonderful Emma Thompson, here playing a famous writer so stricken with writer's block that she's gaunt, drawn and haggard, and as uptight in her own way as Harold is in his his.

Queen Latifah and Dustin Hoffman round out the main roles, and the somewhat surprised romantic female lead is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal (whatever happened to the days when film stars had names that rolled off your tongue?)

Zach Helm, the scriptwriter, has carefully avoiding explaining too much: we have no idea why an apparently real person should suddenly find himself to be a character in someone's book, and no idea how this all works at the end, when 'character' and author eventually meet. By sidestepping that possible complication, Helm is able to focus on the people in the story, and give us a few comments on life and death and the fact that like it or not, we all face death at some time - even if, as Harold remarks rather tearfully, it's just not convenient at the moment. It's also slightly unlikely that someone as wild as Gyllenhaal's character would really fall so readily for someone so boring/oddball as Harold, but somehow it works in the context of the movie. Only Ferrell, perhaps, could make the line, 'I want you' sound both romantic and physical.

Looking back at the list of quotes on I realise again that the dialogue - and narration - in this movie is a lot sharper than you first think. And the humour is subtle; very little of it has that TV sitcom style of: person A makes an odd remark, person B caps it with a laugh line. And there's quite a lot of fun had with the idea of what a story is, how it works, whether it's a comedy or tragedy, and whether all of us have this kind of sense of being part of a story written by someone else.

In the trivia section related to this film, there's this interesting paragraph: The last names of all the characters (and the bus line and publishing firm names) are the names of mathematicians, scientists, engineers, artists, etc. (Harold) Francis Crick: with Watson and Wilkins found the structure of DNA; (Ana) Blaise Pascal: French mathematician and philosopher; (Karen) Gustave Eiffel: engineer and designer of the Eiffel Tower; (Penny) M.C. Escher: Dutch graphic artist; (Dr.) Magnus Gustaf Mittag-Leffler: Swedish mathematician; (Professor Jules) David Hilbert: German mathematician; (Doctor) Gerardus Mercator: 16th century Flemish cartographer; (Kronecker Bus Line) Leopold Kronecker: German-born mathematician and logician; (Banneker Press) Benjamin Banneker: free African American mathematician, astronomer, clockmaker, and publisher; (Dr. Cayly) Arthur Cayley, 19th century British mathematician. Even Dave (no last name) seems to be a reference to the main character from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

It's hard to know how people pick these things up, but it's interesting that they do! (Even harder to know what sort of people pick up the goofs on movies....are they totally focused on looking for inconsistencies?)

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