The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013): Beauty of Presence
An uplifting scene about doing beautiful things without seeking attention
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is about living a beautiful life instead of imagining one. This is presence. Walter experiences this beauty while working as the lead photo developer for LIFE Magazine’s famous photographer, Sean O'Connell. But outside of his development studio, he has intense daydreams that leave him comatose. These episodes intensify when he loses Sean’s photo submission for LIFE’s final issue. Now he must decide whether to carry his beauty outside of the development studio across the world to find Sean.
In my favorite scene, Walter locates Sean in the Himalayas of Afghanistan. Sean seems eternally still, crouched behind a rock, peering through his camera. Walter sits with him, waiting for a snow leopard to exit its den. When the snow leopard finally appears, Sean decides not to take the picture, knowing that it will remove him from the presence of this beautiful moment.
They call the snow leopard the ghost cat. It never lets itself be seen. Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.
As Sean says this, he glances at Walter who embodies the nature of the ghost cat. Walter is a man who does beautiful work and never asks for praise. He and the people who matter know his work is beautiful and that’s enough. However, he doesn’t let himself be seen. He doesn’t let his courage be seen by his asshole boss or affection be seen by his office sweetheart. This keeps him inside his secret life, outside the present moment where he’s most beautiful. Not being seen works well for snow leopards, but not so well for humans. It’s important to open oneself to the world in a humble way.
Opening myself in a way that is not attention-seeking is always top of mind with my writing. For example, after I publish an article or screenplay, I want to share it but not seek attention for it. Seeking attention is like taking a fast photo on a smartphone. It pulls me away from the moment, myself, my work. It somehow cheapens the joy I received when being present with the work. It’s like talking about meditation. That said, there’s always the chance for an Erin Brokovich-like payoff without attention-seeking. This is what Walter receives in the end, and it’s possible for us too, but doing beautiful things is a prerequisite.
Which beautiful things do you create and not seek attention for?