September 11, 2007


Theology Is Stranger Than Fiction: The best film you didn't see last year (Sharon Baker and Crystal Downing, September/October 2007, Books & Culture)

Stranger Than Fiction builds upon an experience reported by many novelists, in which fictional protagonists start taking on lives of their own, behaving in ways that their authors did not originally intend. When Dorothy L. Sayers was asked, in 1936, to explain how she invented her famous fictional detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, she described him as independent from her control almost from the start: "My impression is that I was thinking about writing a detective story, and that he walked in, complete with spats, and applied in an airy don't-care-if-I-get-it way for the job of hero." Tired of his "breeziness" after four novels, she developed "the infanticidal intention of doing away with Peter, that is, of marrying him off and getting rid of him." However, once she created a woman worthy of him, she couldn't follow through with her plan, believing that her new female protagonist deserved a man better than Peter, necessitating five more novels to make him worthy of her.

Stranger Than Fiction is also about an author with infanticidal intentions. Kay Eiffel (played by a stupendous Emma Thompson) is a novelist who always kills off her protagonists. In her current project, Death and Taxes, she plans to do away with an IRS agent named Harold Crick. Problematically, this protagonist (played by Ferrell) overhears her plan.

Of course, we don't know this when the film begins with a voiceover: "This is a story about a man named Harold Crick … and his wristwatch." We soon discover that temporal and mathematical precision seem to control Harold's life—down to the way he counts brushstrokes while cleaning his teeth. In fact, all the characters and the streets in the film are named after famous mathematicians, as though to signal the predictable arithmetic that defines Harold's world.

Not too far into this provocative film, however, we begin to wonder who exactly controls Harold's life: Harold, who programs his watch and obsessively counts all his footsteps, or the narrator, who tells his story? Harold wonders the same thing when he starts to hear the voiceover that we have been hearing—a narration that breaks the convention of film by breaking into his life. We, like Harold, are forced to ask some questions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 11, 2007 6:39 AM

Ecellent film. Took a chance on Netflix with it because I must be the only person in the US who doesn't "get" Will Ferrell. He is very good in a serious role - as for some reason comedians many times are. Well worth seeing.

Posted by: Rick T. at September 11, 2007 1:52 PM