Wednesday, December 05, 2007

stranger than fiction

I have seen an unexpectedly brilliant movie last night with Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman and more...

The film borrows heavily from Niebla by Miguel de Unamuno, a Spanish novel about a character who becomes aware he is being narrated by a writer and goes to visit him. (However, in Unamuno's story, the main character commits suicide.)

The film contains several references to Rene Magritte's painting The Son of Man, the most obvious of which is when Harold is seen walking to work in a dark suit with a green apple in his mouth.

Geometrical and mathematical motifs occur frequently throughout the film. According to bonus features on the DVD release of the film, these represent Harold's "GUI" (graphical user interface): his thoughts as he takes in the world made visible, and were designed to reflect Harold's OCD-like counting and measuring behaviors.

The last names of many characters can be connected to the last names of famous modern scientists and mathematicians: Francis Crick, James Watson, Gustave Eiffel, David Hilbert, Nicholas Mercator, Blaise Pascal, Arthur Cayley, and Gösta Mittag-Leffler. Penny Escher's name can be connected to M. C. Escher, a Dutch graphic artist whose work was heavily influenced by mathematics. The Kroenecker bus, which hits Harold, can be attributed to the famous mathematician of the same name, Leopold Kronecker. Karen Eiffel's publisher, Banneker Press, can be attributed to mathematician and clockmaker Benjamin Banneker. Other small mathematics and science references are slipped in, such as a mention of the corner of Euclid Street and Born Avenue.

A scene at the pool shows Prof. Hilbert, reading Sue Grafton's novel (either "I" Is for Innocent or "J" for Judgement.) Character Karen Eiffel's brainstorming for ways of killing her characters are similar to Grafton's early practice of recording maiming fantasies.

Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is a dull auditor for the Internal Revenue Service who is awakened alone each morning by his wristwatch. He is a compulsive counter and an obsessive time-saver. One day, Harold begins to hear the voice of a woman who is omnisciently narrating his life. Harold attempts to communicate with the voice, but soon realizes the speaker does not know that he can hear her. Later that afternoon, Harold's watch stops working while he is waiting for the bus. Harold resets his watch to a time given by a bystander and hears his narrator remark that this seemingly innocuous act would lead to his imminent death.Anxious at this ominous narration, Harold sees a psychiatrist (Linda Hunt) who attributes the voice to schizophrenia. However, after Harold insists that schizophrenia is not the case, the psychiatrist recommends he visit a literary expert. Harold then visits Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, for advice on how to change his apparent destiny. At Professor Hilbert's office, as they are trying to deduce the author of Harold's story, Harold notices on the TV an interview with author Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), who is talking about her next book, Death and Taxes. Harold immediately recognizes Karen's voice as that of his narrator. Hilbert, surprised, states that in every one of her books, the protagonist dies just as life becomes worthwhile.
Harold then begins a frantic search to find Karen Eiffel, eventually tracking her down through a decade-old IRS file. Arriving at her apartment, he meets her, discovering that she is an antisocial woman who constantly smokes cigarettes; makes a policy of never answering readers' correspondence; and is absorbed in her own self-image of herself as a great writer. Harold explains that he is the leading character of her story and that he does not want to die. Karen is stunned to learn that all she had typed has happened to a man living in her own realm of experience and is therefore horrified at the possibility that the cruel deaths she wrote for her previous protagonists had occurred to similarly real people. On the advice of her assistant Penny (Queen Latifah), she gives him the manuscript of the story, which has yet to be typed, and tells him to read it. Deciding that he cannot bring himself to read the manuscript, Harold gives it to Professor Hilbert to read first.

I wont tell you the ending. I hope you are convinced it is worth watching.

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