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Harold Crick is an accountant with some mild obsessive symptoms such as counting rituals. This obsessive quality, especially with all his calculating, makes him good at his job, at least in being able to see the flaws in people's tax returns. He has a very fixed routine, and he has almost no social life. However, one day he starts hearing a voice, narrating his life. As with anyone who starts hearing voices, he finds this very disturbing. Even though a therapist tells him he must have schizophrenia, he is sure that he does not. The voice is not talking to him, but just talking about him. So he finds a literary professor to help him work out what kind of writer the person in his head is. They eventually locate the author, and Harold explains to her the problem. He is a character in the book that she is currently writing. It turns out that she has writer's block and she does not know how to end her novel.
At the same time as Harold starts hearing the voice, he also meets a woman in the line of his work. He finds her extremely attractive, even though he is auditing her. She gives him a very hard time but they start to like each other. This is of course what author Karen Eiffel is planning for him, in her own book. The irony that she is planning for him is that just as his life starts to get better, he will die.
The plot is a fascinating device, bringing in a self-consciousness unusual in modern movies. This makes Stranger Than Fiction one of the most striking movies in recent years. The plot runs the danger of not just relying on a very strange assumption, that an author's words could enter the head of one of her characters, but also being inconsistent, because it is not part of Eiffel's book that her character hear the narrative. This inconsistency makes it hard to press the interpretation of what is going on in the story, and what is the relation between author and character.
However, there's enough in the plot to make this a rich movie. Karen Eiffel is a depressed author who has to face the choice whether to write a great novel or consider an actual living person. By way of contrast, Harold's love interest, Ana, is vibrant and full of life. She makes cookies and runs a café, and enjoys her life to the full. There's plenty here about what makes a life worth living and what is the relation between a good story and a good life.
The cast is wonderful, featuring Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman and Maggie Gyllenhaal. They all give excellent performances, bringing the script to life. The direction is also strong; quirky yet still clearly a mainstream movie that does not alienate the viewer.
The extras on the DVD are fairly minimal, and are very self-satisfied; those involved in the movie talk about how great it is. There is no director's commentary. Some of the featurettes do provide some interesting details about how the film was made, especially with the many graphics used to emphasize Harold's mathematical mind. They enable us to get a better understanding of what is going on in his head.
So this is a film worth seeing, even though the DVD extras do not add much.
© 2007 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews. His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.