Stranger than Fiction

New all-purpose response for questions without immediate answers: consult your narrator.

That's because life very often is stranger than fiction. Life--time itself--sometimes insists on transcending itself and becoming something interesting, challenging, meaningful, and rich in love--a work of art.

This is what happens in the 2006 movie Stranger than Fiction about IRS auditor Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) who finds himself to be the main character of acclaimed author Kay Eiffel's (Emma Thompson) draft novel. He's living a 9-to-5 life as The Taxman until love steps into his sense of time in the living form of bohemian cookie-baker restaurateur Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhall). Ana has not been playing by the tax rules, and Crick is her auditor.

Suddenly, thoughts of Ana interrupt the quotidian for Crick. He finds himself pursuing his dream of playing the guitar, he throws that silly necktie away, and worries not at all about the requisite number of brush strokes he applies to his teeth in the morning.

All this would be syrupy stuff if it weren't for the voice of his narrator in his head. She is the third-person omniscient god who knows everything about his every move except how she will kill him off in the end. Crick is sure the voice is not schizophrenia, so his shrink sends him to literature professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman) who helps him determine which stories he is not living and tells him he needs to determine whether he is living a tragedy or a comedy. Does his story question the meaning of life or affirm its value?

With the prof's help, Crick realizes he is a tragic hero. It's all in the "little did he know" about which Hilbert has written and lectured so much. This is the nature of the tragic flaw, limited knowledge and therefore perception. You do the best you can with what you have but ultimately it is not, cannot, be enough. You mess up.

The twist on tragedy is that Crick will be offered the opportunity to act with full knowledge of the outcome of his actions. What will he do knowing he can't win?

When crick realizes he's a tragic hero, he tracks down his narrator and tells her he wants to live. Here life and art and the question of our responsibility to art--and art's responsibility to us--merge in a subtle, intelligent climax. Eiffel negotiates a win-win compromise. Though responsibility and compromise mar the art in some way, the artist elevates humanity in the end.

Know why you got up this morning? Consult your narrator....