I wrote the first draft of this post while I was at school watching Stranger than fiction, with some students, the day before the Easter holidays started. I had not watched this fantastic comedy by Marc Forster for ten years, but just like the first time I’d seen it, it captivated me completel; actually when a student of mine lent me the dvd in 2008 I watched it two times in a row. I couldn’t resist the impulse to write as I watched, but it took me almost a month to come back to it.
It is the story of a man, Harold Crick (Will Ferrell in his best role, I think) who suddenly realizes he is a character in a story. When we start watching this dull daily routine, we see some strange lines appear on the screen and listen to a voice-over narrator but we do not really take notice, until Harold starts hearing it too, and reacts more and more nervously – and who wouldn’t: can you imagine, hearing a voice say how long you take to clean your teeth and not getting nervous?
The first half of the film, when Harold tries to understand what is going on, is brilliant, with a literature professor (Dustin Hoffman, wonderful) using “Little did he know” as a lithmus test to determine whether the man is or isn’t a character in a narrative.
The second half is more emotional; at this point you have firmly rooted for the protagonist, now that he has started living his life, has bought his pale-green guitar which says “I rock” and has fallen in love, and you understand that this may not be a comedy at all.
The plot of Stranger than fiction is the only example that I know of a genuine “deus ex machina” narrative device, with a writer (Emma Thompson) manipulating the actions of Fate in the story she is writing (and we are watching), looking for the best, most poignant conclusion. I don’t want to spoil the film for you, so I will only say that Fate acts by means of a few apples – light-green Granny Smith apples rolling on concrete.