All of those images are in Ben Stiller's adaptation of James Thurber's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I saw the movie recently with my family and we all enjoyed it. In fact, we saw it in a full theatre and I picked up on a positive energy from the entire audience. There were a lot of communal laughs that I haven't heard at a movie in a long time. It was like everyone was really into the show and just expressing their enjoyment without being aware of everyone around them. I take that as a sign of a well-made movie and this one certainly was.
The character of Walter Mitty is so ingrained in popular thought that the name is a metaphor for someone who is a dreamer in the sense of a "wannabe." The common expression is "Walter Mitty type" when describing someone who fantasizes about being someone else, usually a more exciting persona. The dreamer's desire is motivated by a wish to escape dull or otherwise unpleasant circumstances that he or she feels are imprisoning. His ability to make his escape is all but nil, so there is an element of tragedy in that fantasies are all he has. Don Quixote, on the other hand, at least acted on his dream in a concrete way, though it often earned him a beating. He was not just dreaming the impossible dream, he was attempting to live it.
I think more of us identify with Walter Mitty than with Don Quixote. We dream because that's all we can do. We don't have the means or the freedom to truly live in earnest, so we keep quiet and leave our debt-financed Land Rover (or Lexus) in the parking garage while we spend the day in our cubicle.
Ben Stiller's movie starts with this more-tragic image, showing Mitty as a photo negative processor at Life magazine. He's 42, works in the basement, is threatened with job loss when Life is taken over by new management, and he can't even work up the courage to send a e-harmony wink to a coworker he has the hots for (when he does, it doesn't go through). His e-harmony profile is devoid of "things done." These negatives prompt Mitty's escapist imaginings (with much high-tech embellishment) as he "zones out" in stressful situations.
But Stiller doesn't leave us with a trapped, disillusioned Walter Mitty. For all his problems, Mitty has potential. He is smart, resourceful, imaginative, and even a skilled skateboarder. He just needs the courage and motivation to cross the line into a fulfilling life (don't we all believe that?).
This scenario is common in movies, where the bored and boring protagonist comes into his own by finding adventure, love, etc. This is the essence of "coming of age" stories (re: Star Wars). It can make for a predictable and sappy story, but Stiller doesn't fall into that trap. He could have, had he made Mitty's "breakout" be a mission to save the world, or rescue the heroine from terrorists, or right some huge wrong. But Mitty doesn't need to save the world, just himself.
So Stiller doesn't send him chasing the Holy Grail. He goes looking for one of the magazine's photographers, Sean O'Connell (played by Sean Penn), as part of his search for a lost photo negative meant to be the cover for Life's final print issue. His search takes him globetrotting and so he finally gets his passport stamped, fills his travel journal, and makes good use of his backpack. More important, he experiences life and stops zoning-out.
I've identified with Walter Mitty ever since I read Thurber's story in High School. I expect that's true of many people, just judging by the audience reaction in the movie theatre. But though Walter Mitty or Don Quixote characters are enjoyed in stories, they are often condemned in life as aimless dreamers. Yet the character persists in our entertainments. I think that's because some of us realize that it's better to dream of an ideal, than live a delusion and believe it's real.
I consider The Secret Life of Walter Mitty to be Ben Stiller's best movie. I like that he made Mitty's redeeming activity to be travel, rather than fighting aliens or saving the president or some such. It makes Mitty's personal journey more relateable. This is underscored by the realistic feel of the travel scenes (even when dealing with sharks and volcanoes; and they're funny--I especially liked the scene with the drunken helicopter pilot).
In the movie, Mitty is prompted to step outside his "box" by his need to track down O'Connell. He is reluctant at first, because finding O'Connell will require some world travel, starting with his last known whereabouts, Greenland. Life opens up to him when Mitty takes the plunge. And I can relate, to a degree. When Donna and I were talking about a trip to Mexico back in 2012 (Puerto Vallarta) I felt the inertia of fear and self-doubt about making such a trip. But I bit the bullet and did it, and got my passport stamped for the first time. When the trip was done and we were flying back, I was ready to keep going and see other places. I think our sons had a similar experience with their trip to China. So, like Mitty, I can find the courage to step out-of-doors, and even be taken by the wanderlust, if I can find the motivation and the material wherewithal.
I liked that Stiller cast Shirley MacLaine in the role of Walter Mitty's mother. That casting embraces the movie's "travel broadens the mind" theme because MacLaine is a restless world traveler, experiencer, and author. Those are things I would love to be as well, and I suppose many people feel the same. A few people realize these activities and compose their identities from their experience of the wider world. The rest of us just dream.