Not only does Harold begin to change and find balance, the surrounding characters also go through some realizations. The opposing poles in the film are freedom/passion versus order/calculation. Throughout Harold’s Journey, I will use visual and aural examples to support my claims. The film begins with Harold’s ordinary world: a calculated and orderly man in an isolated world with every action dictated through time. Some examples is that he counts the number of brush strokes when brushing his teeth and the number of steps it takes to get to the bus stop.
Fittingly, Harold works as an IRS agent whose job is using a methodical approach to find accuracy in employees’ and businesses’ taxes. His inner conflict is that he allows time to dictate who he is. He battles to stray from his daily routine, finding comfort and reassurance in the precise measurements of his every action. The use of imagery is first shown with Harold’s watch. The watch has three important characteristics: it is an instrument of time, a symbol of personification, and a divine power/mentor characteristics.
Harold uses the watch to measure every action he makes throughout the day; when he wakes up, when he goes to work, when he returns from a work break, when he goes to bed, etc. The use of personification is that the watch has life-like qualities. The watch has a mind; it thinks that a certain method of tying a necktie makes Harold’s neck look fat. Its mentor characteristics constantly conflicts with Harold’s ideas and actions and tries to balance him out. The divine power the watch has will be discussed later on. Harold has several calls to adventures that he refuses.
The first call is when he hears a voice narrating his actions (Karen Eiffel) while brushing his teeth. He looks at the toothbrush and says, “Hello. ? He blatantly resists the narration by resuming his daily routine, like nothing strange just happened. Another resist is at the bakery while performing an audit on the Baker, Ana Pascal. After hearing the voice he utters the phrase, “Not now. ? The bakery scene is important to the overall theme because it brings the opposing poles of the movie into contact. During Harold’s encounter with Ana, his only concern is to understand why she only paid 78% of her taxes.
He methodically uses the IRS guidelines to audit Ana, showing Harold’s pole of order/calculation. Ana is on the other pole of freedom/passion. The first scene Ana appears shows her passion. She responds to Harold’s audit by using derogatory marks like, “miscreant,”? and “get bent, Taxman! “? She also believes in freedom by not paying the remaining 23% on national defense, corporate bailouts, and national discretionary funds. Later in the film we come to find out that Ana left Harvard law school in order to become a Baker, a career she is genuinely passionate about.
Harold is so resistant to change that he curses the heavens. Harold is thrust in the crossing of the first threshold with the news that he will face his imminent death. This news is delivered by the narrator, which the viewer later discovers is Karen Eiffel, who is at first the unknowing author of Harold’s life. The news of his imminent death portrays the half-full side of time; its emphasis on the importance of time and doing all your passions while you’re living. When he fears the news, he is forced to act and change his orderly life-style in pursuit of answers.
The next stage comes in pursuit of answers; he faces tests, allies, and enemies. In this stage he also meets with his mentor, an English professor, Jules Hilbert. His yearning to some answers, leads to a sit-down with psychiatrist. The psychiatrist reveals that he has schizophrenia and is going to be prescribed medication. He declines treatment and she gives him a recommendation for another alternative (his mentor). It is in the next scene, the narrator Karen, is introduced. Use of imagery is used again in tying in theme with the death of Harold’s old ways; Karen jumps off a large building.
Karen, who is a critically acclaimed author in dealing with death, is in fact stuck on how Harold Crick will die. Penny (part of Karen’s publication team) then is asked to intervene. Penny suggests trying a more methodical approach of reading similar works of literature previously written, but Karen insists on spontaneous inspirations. This scene further supports my claims of the opposing poles (Karen-passion/Penny-orderly). After the news of his impending doom, Harold seeks help and comes across an English professor, Jules Hilbert, which provides mentor energy for Harold.
Ironically, it happens to be that Professor Hilbert is also the faculty lifeguard and is potentially saving Harold. Professor Hilbert encourages him to cross into the new world with the idea that his life is not only his life, but also a literary work. He narrows down the possibility that Harold’s life is a comedy or tragedy. He then asks Harold to test which thematic work it is and it is at that moment, Harold begins to approach the supreme ordeal. To no surprise, Harold still uses his methodically/calculated approach in tallying whether his actions are a comedy or a tragedy.
As Professor Hilbert continues to guide Harold, he instructs him to do nothing and remain in his apartment. It is here, when Harold is at the innermost cave (supreme ordeal). While in his apartment, he has to face himself and confront his inner conflict. The presence of death is made clear through the use of imagery. The program on his television set is Animal Planet. In various scenes, it shows animals eating other animals; signifying the death of Harold’s old self. Also it shows death literally, by the near death experience of Harold himself, when the bulldozer crashes through the wall of his apartment.
His watch acts as divine power, alerting Harold of the impending danger. After the supreme ordeal, Harold is rewarded with a new outlook on life and begins to abandon his old habits and pursue life through freedom/passion. This new outlook on life is used through several scenes of imagery and symbolizes what Harold wants to become. When Harold gives Ana flowers that have yet to bloom, it illustrates his eagerness to grow and live life but just like the bloomless flowers, he has not yet reached his full potential.
Another set of imagery scenes is the image of flowers tattooed on her arm and all the images of flowers in her apartment. It symbolizes that Ana is a catalyst for growth for Harold and Ana is the embodiment freedom/passion. On the road back, Harold fulfills one his dormant passions; to play the guitar. When he learns how to play a song on the guitar, it not only sounds great, but in fact brings Ana to fall in love with him. The issue of time is stressed further in the film after he discovers he is in a tragedy that will ultimately lead to his imminent death.
As Harold finally meets Karen, she begins to marvel at every detail that she described in the book and also how strange this occurrence is. Knowing Karen controls his fate, Harold asks for her to spare his life and prolong it. Harold then reads the ending of the novel and ultimately accepts his fate by telling Karen to publish it. Symbolically, his attitude toward divine power has changed. Harold began by not accepting his death by cursing the heavens and also the scene where he looks outside through the plastic cover sheet (looking at the outside not through clarity; his mind clouded and preoccupied with his knowing fate).
Harold has changed and is as close to being balanced as he’s ever been. The resurrection is after Harold accepts how he will die, by willingly throwing himself in front a bus to save a small boy as it was written in the book. He becomes severely injured and hospitalized. It is then revealed that he will survive and continue to live, because Karen (divine power) decided to change the ending of her story. The film ends with Harold seizing the elixir: a second chance to live but more importantly, to live life with freedom/passion.
The Theme of Stranger Than Fiction, is that you start to live a happy life when you pursue your passions and you live freely (knowing you don’t control your fate and by not letting something/someone dictate who you are). It demonstrates the opposite; you will live an unhappy life if you don’t pursue your passions and try to control your fate. I found the use of two set-ups and a pay-off; the boy on the bike and the bus driver. Before the final encounter that resulted in the near death of Harold, the boy on his bike was the cause of two bus driving accidents; one on the bridge and one in the city.