I recently re-watched Stranger Than Fiction, starring Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson. While I'm a fan of Will Ferrell's comedies (I love Elf: Smiling's my favorite; and Old School: Frank the Tank, anyone?), I found Stranger Than Fiction to be my favorite of Ferrell's films. Not only because Ferrell broke out of the physical comedy realm, but for the questions that I found myself asking as I watched the movie.
Ferrell plays Harold Crick, an IRS agent who finds himself the lead character in Karen Eiffel's book Death by Taxes. Throughout the movie, Crick hears his life and movements narrated in the author's voice. Early on, Crick finds out that his imminent death looms. Frightened that he may die sooner rather than later, Crick determinedly seeks to either stop the author from writing. Crick enlists literature professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman) to help him discern what sort of story he's in.
Through a series of adventures, encounters, and a leave of absence from work, Crick learns to embrace life, play the guitar, and fall in love. Stiff-necked Crick relaxes, finding that life is more than the series of carefully planned events he'd tried to make it. He breaks his routine and finds life outside the routine.
The questions this movie raises for me are theological in nature. Crick hears a voice in his head, narrating his life, which sounds to me like the view of God many people hold: that there is an entity in this universe that can predict all our movements and know how and when our lives will end. Crick, however, wants to escape that model of the universe. He becomes proactive in saving his life, to the point of searching for his life's author and begging her to rethink his death. After Crick ventures beyond the typical and superficial, he finds the beauty in the many ordinary and extraordinary things of life, wanting Eiffel to give him a chance to be this new, free person he's discovered.
Most people think that once God has chosen the path someone's life is to take, God's mind can't be changed. Stranger Than Fiction challenges that theology. Karen Eiffel had decided to end Harold Crick's life until he became a real person to her. Then he was no longer an abstract concept or a fictional character, but a living, breathing individual who had learned how to live life to its fullest.
Too many times, I find that religious people accept the path that God chose for them and don't dare to look beyond the belief that "God knows what's best and wouldn't do anything to harm us." Yes, God has provided my life with a calling — but the path, the journey of how I get from who I am to who I will be, is up to me. Life is a set of choices that are made, and some of those choices are better than others… but there isn't any entity in this universe, God or me, who knows the exact choices I will make. Some choices will seem more obvious than others, but I have to live my life. The story of me is being written as we speak, but I'm the author, not any other.
I believe individual agency to be one of Stranger Than Fiction's many rich, underlying themes. Harold Crick was an individual who needed to be taught that, rather than be a creature of habit, he could embrace a life that is full of adventure — a life and a path that only he could choose. Yes, someone tried to tell him who he was and where he was headed and how he was going to die. But he didn't let that be the end of him. He regained his life by daring to redefine it. His story was being written by someone else — until he decided that he wanted to write his own story and claimed the authorship that was rightfully his.