“It’s strange, but it’s true. Truth is always a strange thing, stranger than fiction “(Lord Byron). The restless German director Marc Foster (Monster’s ball, Discovering Never Again, Transit) again changes register and explores the blurred boundaries that exist between reality and fiction, surprising us with an unusual, intelligent and reflective story that caught him from the first moment: “I thought it was a fantastic script, a very funny comedy with heart and soul”.
Given the metadiscursive nature of the story, it is difficult to analyze its content without choosing one or the other of the following approaches. Harold Crick is a grey, methodical and lonely being, a tax collector by profession, who lives isolated and prisoner of/in an encrypted and ritualized life, in which each of his acts is meticulously repeated a certain number of times each day. On Wednesday, by chance, his everyday life breaks, along with his watch. From that moment on, he begins to hear a feminine voice, which no one else hears, which relates to and describes his actions, emotions and feelings with meticulous literary precision. A kind of omniscient, ubiquitous and “almighty” narrator who manages the threads of his existence and who, despite himself, seems to lead him, irremissibly, to certain death … before which he is not willing to give up.
Karen Eiffel is a famous, eccentric and irascible writer who, after ten years of meticulous work, suffers a creative block when she is about to finish what will be her best work. His last obstacle is to decide how the central character of his novel should die, a routine and obsessive tax inspector overwhelmed by everyday order and triviality. She ignores that this is not just a fictional character but has a life of its own and has inexplicably become aware of its existence and the inexorable end that awaits it.
Both descriptions of the argument are true and equally valid but allude to two different points of view of the story. The first is the story of a man (Harold Crick) unhappy and ritualized, without illusions, to discover that he is going to die (rather than they will kill him) shortly, which activates and puts him in touch with life. The second is the story of a writer (Karen Eiffel) with “inspiration blockage” and the strategies, methods and paranoia she suffers from freeing her imagination and solving her creative paralysis.
The first story is supposedly contained in the second: Harold (Will Ferrell), in principle, belongs to the fiction created by Karen (Emma Thompson) but, in the end, ends up being part of his reality, as much as she of his is. Both realities overlap so significantly that one is capable of altering the other in a drastic and forceful way. Both stories turn out to be complementary, as well as a metadiscursive game, as brilliant as it is surreal, where reality and fiction are imbricated until they seem alternative.
A bridge character arbitrates this polarity of the approach, Professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), who acts as an intermediary between the two stories, chaining both in one. He is the one who makes Harold’s “fiction-reality” converge with Karen’s “reality-fiction”, concentrating them in a single world in which everything is possible. His position as a counsellor of both places him above both (his work as a lifeguard in the pool, sitting in his high chair, vigilant, is a metaphor for that power that gives him his intermediation) and does not commit him to any. It also acts as a link with the spectator, who finds in it the link that gives credibility to the nonsense and verisimilitude to the fable.
The orderly and systematic Harold Crick, the paradigm of the obsessive neurotic, lives a hollow reality, without illusion and without desires, entrenched in ritualization and emptiness. After twelve years of methodical work in the tax office and a non-existent social and affective life, she is a half-dead person, buried between precise numbers and calculations (76 toothbrush strokes, 38 in each direction, 57 steps to cross the street …), immovable and chronometrically accurate habits (45’7 food minutes, 7134 daily records …) to hide from himself his unhappiness. Discovering the voice that announces your next and imminent ending puts you in touch with your true reality and awakens you to desire, to live, to feel, to be.
Hearing the voice from within, following the advice of Professor Hilbert, giving up his work, letting himself be carried away by his dreams (learning to play the guitar), assuming death and abandoning his feelings towards Ana will help him define it.
Ana (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is her antithesis: fraud defrauded by conviction and militant antisystem; she is an idealistic, sensitive, supportive and enthusiastic woman who lives the life she has chosen, abandoning her university studies to devote herself to pastry. His dream was to use the law to make the world a better place, but he decided to contribute to it by making cookies. Your store is always full of people who love and protect it.
Karen’s world tells us about loneliness, the lack of inspiration and the mechanisms to activate it, the creative anguish and the difficulty with which each author faces the paper, the canvas, the physical or figurative blank screen of his imagination, on which to set in motion, give life or make succumb your visions, characters or artefacts. The power to create and manipulate the elements that every author is, makes him a merciless predator tyrant who discovers one day that their creatures have become independent and claim their share of freedom to govern their own destination.
The film is a metaphor for the unpredictable and the contingent. Nothing is written, definitely; only death, but until its occurrence, the possibility of making life a comedy or a tragedy depends largely on ourselves. In addition, a song to the nuances, the subtleties, the details and the small things that are what ultimately save our lives.
A very literary and erudite story, reminiscent of Unamuno and Cortazar and reminiscent of the scripts of charlie Kaufman, turned into an accessible and pedantic film that admits readings by layers, from the most philosophical, conceptual and encrypted to the most translucent and human digestible metalanguage and in perfect shape.