Will Ferrell plays an IRS tax inspector, Harold Crick, who lives an orderly life that is measured down to the exact detail. In fact, the voice in his head tells him this, as he wakes up one day to find that only he can hear narrating his life.
He consults a literature teacher, who tries to work out which author is narrating Harold’s life, but initially dismisses Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) on the basis that Harold’s life seems to be a comedy and she generally writes tragedies.
Harold is sent to audit a quirky bakery owner (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and falls in love with her, despite her hatred for the IRS and everything Harold stands for. Just as Harold is getting a new lease of life, he discovers that the person who is narrating his story is indeed Kay Eiffel, and that her characters always die at the end. For the first time, he feels a passion for living and he finds that he cares very much indeed about not being written out of existence by his own personal narrator. Kay Eiffel, on the other hand, is faced with the difficulty that she is suddenly writing about a real person rather than a character, and while killing him off will make the book the best thing she has ever written, it will also destroy someone’s life.
Stranger Than Fiction is a mind-bending film with some really big and interesting questions at its heart about life and literature, but it’s also a funny, touching story about a person who has lived a regimented life and is learning to break free and become the person he wants to be. Will Ferrell is brilliant as Harold Crick, relatively quiet and understated compared to many of his more famous roles, and Emma Thompson manages to make the difficult choice Kay Eiffel has been given very relatable. The film refuses to provide easy answers to the questions it raises, leaving you to wonder whether Kay has accidentally written other people out of existence without realising and asking whether it’s ever justifiable to destroy a human life for the sake of truly great art.
Stranger Than Fiction is an unexpectedly fun film with a sweet relationship at the heart of it and a lot of big questions, but it never feels preachy or pretentious.
If you liked Stranger Than Fiction…
Watch Being John Malkovich, a film about a puppeteer who discovers a portal that transports him inside the mind of actor John Malkovich, or Adaptation, a film fictionalising real-life writer Charlie Kaufman’s struggle to adapt a book called The Orchid Thief (a real book) for the screen at the same time as being a film adaptation of The Orchid Thief. Both films are written by Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze.
Jorge Luis Borges wrote bizarre metafictional stories about fantastical places and people. Try his most famous collection, Labyrinths, to really mess with your mind!
Read Italo Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller, a novel that begins by talking directly to the reader about the book they are about to read and then proceeds with a number of first chapters to unfinished novels, all with weird parallels to each other. It’s a lot to get your head round, but Calvino provides a fascinating exploration of the relationship between fiction and life.