Nancy Baxter, Senior Editor at Hawthorne
In the last blog I complained about the dismal relativism in the arts recently. It was fine for Disney to produce a gorgeously produced and star-filled movie about how a villain got to be a villain and how we can follow her nefarious career with full understanding now. For many, most today, that would be a satisfactory underlying theme: villainy explained is nefariousness justified.
My granddaughter suggested we see a movie from 2006: “Stranger than Fiction,” to get another view of how the arts can steer us on a moral course, if, indeed it is supposed to do that.
“Stranger than Fiction” stars Will Ferrell as an Internal Revenue agent plugged into a job without much hope for the future or interaction with other people. One morning he begins to hear a voice in his head narrating his life, as if he is a character in a book.
As this voice continues narrating what he is doing, he seeks help from a literature professor, Dustin Hoffman, who tells him he is hearing a famous author who is writing a book—and he is also hearing it in his head. She is trying to finish her latest book which will end when she kills him off. Seeking this author, played by Emma Stone in a different kind of roll from that of the Disney film, he begins to find out there are more things to life than his robotic job at the Internal Revenue headquarters. He meets an individualistic young woman and they fall in love.
As his life expands and he notices all the opportunities for getting to know and understand others, he is able by the end of the movie to reverse the ominous ending—that he will die in a traffic accident—and moves into a new sense of life and “marries the girl.”
The theme is of course Socrates’s saying at his trial: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” It is a slightly different variant of the famous “Groundhog Day.” “Shape up,” “Improve your life,” “Strive to be the best person you possibly can be,” seems to me to be a decent message from the arts. I’d like to see more of it again.