Stranger than Fiction (2006) – Marc Forster (Samantha Schäfer)

Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is an IRS auditor who leads a punctual but uneventful life – until one day he is interrupted by a disembodied omniscient narrator who makes him realise that he is merely a character in a story and changes everything.

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Stranger than Fiction takes itself to a rare metafictional level in many different ways, commenting on both literature and film, and really any kind of narrative that we are bound to in life. Instead of seamlessly and invisibly merging the different levels of storytelling like regular films do, it is very clear about what it is – and what it is not. It starts right away with an unnatural representation of Harold’s life: a meta level is literally put as a layer on top of the in-storyworld representation when the narrator elaborates on his habits. In that way, the visuals already show that something is a little off – but the real deal comes through when the two worlds merge completely. Harold, minding his own business, suddenly becomes aware of the narration, and although character and narrator do not interact directly, they do influence one another and continue to do so throughout the movie.

It is funny, it is brilliant, and it is truthful about life: this comedy-drama with a cute little love twist is exactly what it claims to be, stranger than fiction. The hypermedial double-layering of the story constantly brings the viewer back to the fact that it is fiction, oddly fighting against the feeling of immersion that most films try to invoke – but indeed, it is fiction within fiction within fiction, and it is very open about it.

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Aside from the visual department, the storyline constantly emphasises this as well in the character of literature professor Jules Hilbert, played magnificently by Dustin Hoffman, who is trying to find out how to relate Harold’s problem to literary criticism in order to determine the most likely outcome of the story. This leads even to the point where Harold tries to figure out, through little comments and actions in his everyday life, what type of narration he is caught in during his interaction with the baker Ana Pascal, whom he has to audit for his job. It can hardly get more ‘meta’ than that, can it?

It can. Departing from the deepest level of the story, the film goes on to cover the life and work of the author Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), who is stuck in a terrible writer’s block that her assistant tries to help her with. She desperately tries to get a feeling for her character’s situation, resorting to quite some strange methods to figure out how to, eventually – kill him off.

Let’s take a step back from the storyline and have a look at the performance part of the film. Without question, the cast consists of brilliant actors like Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson who create deep, round, and true-to-life characters in all their tiny weird facets. It is quite amazing how Will Ferrell manages to portray Harold in such a sterile, depressing but not necessarily depressed, restrained character whose every movement is exactly timed to the rhythm of his watch. It is not surprising that the movie has been nominated for several awards and won for example the NBR Award for Best Original Screenplay; it really is something original and different from anything I’ve seen before.

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Stranger than Fiction is a brilliant piece of art that I would assume is especially entertaining for students of literature and film, or anyone really with a deeper interest in narrative. But although on the surface it is about fiction, on the inside it is also about life – about us.

Because what would you do if you found out your life is merely a story written by someone else – a story that has to end some day, in one way or another? What would you do different about your life, yourself, your ambitions, your relationships? Harold has to find out the hard way – but it’s a thought experiment that everyone should entertain once in a while to remind ourselves that we should never take anything granted.

And, well – live.

Samantha Schäfer

http://www.vigil4ntre4per.wordpress.com

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14 Comments Add yours

  1. halfwelshman says:

    Great review – I loved Stranger Than Fiction, and am a sucker for most reality-warping fiction.

    1. Thank you! It was quite mind-boggling, I also love anything that goes meta to such an extent that fiction meets reality.

  2. trememdously entertaining film. I saw it last year for the first time and i think i’ve watched it twice since. A great premise that follows through on the meta-fictional absurdity it sets up but still manages to be sweet and romantic (that’s a difficult thing for a film to do). Great performances all round, and Ferrell shows that beneath the comic mania he really can be a dramatic actor: it’s a shame he hasn’t been offered more parts like this. And Maggie Gyllenhall is terribly sexy in it. Great soundtrack, too.

    1. Maggie certainly was a highlight of the film.

    2. It’s one of the films that you probably need to watch a few times to get to all the meta-content. I only saw it last year for the first time, too, but took it as an example for many a class too.

  3. Oh it was lovely reading this review! Stranger than Fiction is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s just insanely sweet and clever, and Ferrell’s best performance of his entire career, in my opinion.

    1. I totally agree, it’s brilliant on so many levels, and it quickly jumped to the top of my favourite films too. I just love anything meta, really, and this one is just thought-provoking on so many different levels. Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  4. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the film as I’m not a particular fan of Will Ferrall. It’s engaging fare and very thought-provoking.

    1. He did a really good job here though, and the whole sterile atmosphere contributes to it a lot I think.

  5. One of my favorite contemporary movies. 🙂

    1. It really is quite a gem. 😀

  6. Reblogged this on vigil4ntre4per and commented:
    Check out my guest review for “A World of Film”, and go ahead and browse through their reviews anyway, there are quite some gems to be found there!

  7. syvarnam says:

    I remember being really surprised by Will Ferrell’s performance–I expected something great from Emma Thompson, but his take on his character showed way more depth than he’s shown before. I agree with your assessment, it’s definitely worth watching.

    P.S. Thanks for the like on Apple of my Odd Eye.

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