Stranger Than Fiction: He’s not crazy. He’s just written that way.
This is a story about the life of a dull tax-audit agent Harold Crick. He lived his life with nothing but numbers. He counts his brushstrokes, the number of steps from his apartment to the bus stop, the time of his lunch and tea break. His constant life came to a halt when he began hearing a voice that narrates about his routine existence. The voice keeps talking about him, telling the action and thought that he made. It describes, with precision, about his life. This is as if Harold’s life is a story written by someone to which he doesn’t have control over. One day he was told by the voice about his imminent death.
The voice shocked and prompted Harold to search for answers for his experience. He came to Prof. Jules Hilbert, a literary theorist, for help. After several sessions, Hilbert suggested to Harold to find out is he in a comedy or tragedy. Hilbert is like the theologian or philosopher who tries to figure out the meaning and implication of human’s experience. He would ask Harold question, which helps to discover what genre of story is Harold in.
What I find most interesting in the movie are the conversations between Harold and Hilbert. Their simple chit-chat sessions often dwells on topics which we take granted but to which determine our identity, for instance:
Hilbert: The only way to find out what story you are in is to determine what stories you’re not in…[after asking some questions, I can] determined conclusively that you are not King Hamlet, Scout Finch, Miss Marple, Frankenstein’s monster, or a Golemn… Aren’t you relieved to know that you’re not a Golemn?
Harold: [feeling odd and a little impatient] Yes, I’m relieved to know that I’m not a Golemn.
How many of us take granted that we are not Golemn? I did. I have never thought that it’s such a fortune that I’m not a Golemn. Or in other case, aren’t we consider ourselves fortunate that we don’t conspire to cheat, betray, and murder others to get what is precious to us?
On other hand, isn’t the way to find out our story is by determining which stories we are not in? Many people thought that when they arrived at a story or religion, they have found THE story or religion. There are very good reasons why meta-narrative is incredible. On the top, is our confined finitude to comprehend, to read, the interpret reality. We know something is out there, yet we know we are too easily distracted by our context from knowing that something. Perhaps, the only credulous meta-narrative is the story of our arriving to the current suspicious milieu of our ability (inability) to read meta-narrative. So how do we know which stories are we in? How does Harold knows which story is he in?
Hilbert: The last thing to determine conclusively is whether you are in a comedy or a tragedy. To quote Italo Calvino, ‘the ultimate meaning to which all stories refer has two faces: The continuity of life, the inevitability of death.’ Tragedy, you die. Comedy, you get hitched. Most comic heroes fall in love with people who are introduced after the story has begun. Usually people who hate the hero initially. Although I can’t imagine anyone hating you, Harold.
Harold: Professor Hilbert, I’m an IRS agent. Everyone hates me.
Hilbert: Right, right. Good. Have you met anyone recently who might loathe the very core of you?
Harold: I just started auditing a woman who told me to get bent.
Hilbert: Well, that sounds like a comedy. Try to develop that.
‘…That sounds like a comedy. Try to develop that’. This phrase pushes hope through our current incredulity-towards-meta-narrative tragedy. Since meta-narrative could turn out to be tragedy, why should we keep ourselves stoned in it?
We can’t know for sure are we in a comedy or tragedy. But we can develop a comedy of our own. Each of us gets hitched. But what if our stories turn out to be a tragedy? What if Harold’s story is not a comedy?
Harold: Go live my life? I’m living my life. I’d like to continue to live my life.
Hilbert: I know. Of course. I mean all of it. However long you have left. You know, I mean, Howard (Harold), you could use it to have an adventure. You know, invent something, or just finish reading Crime and Punishment. Hell, Harold, you could just eat nothing but pancakes if you wanted.
Harold: What’s wrong with you? Hey, I don’t wanna eat nothing but pancakes. I wanna live. I mean, who in their right mind in a choice between pancakes and living, chooses pancakes?
Hilbert: Harold, if you’d pause to think, I believe you’d realize that that answer’s inextricably contingent upon the type of life being led…and, of course, the quality of the pancakes. You don’t understand what I’m saying?
Harold: Yes, I do. But you have to understand that this isn’t a philosophy or a literary theory or a story to me. It’s my life.
Hilbert: Absolutely. So just go make it the one you’ve always wanted.