Words and Photos by Alex Lostak
In 2013, Ben Stiller released his second film as a director, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. What to many was a feel-good movie for the 2013 holidays, for me, ended up being a demonstration of the catalyst film can be for action, and changed my life forever. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a story about Walter Mitty, a film asset manager at Life Magazine, who spends his days daydreaming fantastical scenarios around him, as he muddles through mundane everyday tasks, but the daydreaming began to fade as Walter is sent off on an unexpected adventure, that brings the excitement right in front of him.
As Walter is sent off on an adventure around the globe, chasing down a missing photograph from a roll of film sent into Life by renowned photographer Sean O’Connell, the daydreams stop as Walter begins to experience adventures of his own. He fights off a shark, gets caught in a volcanic eruption, and pays off warlords on his hike through the Himalayas. At its core, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a story about growth, about taking what life puts in front of you and creating your own adventure. Walter spends his life up until this point creating adventure in his head, but when the time comes, he seizes the opportunity and lives out his adventure in the real world.
Watching this film as a teenager lit a fire inside of me. It was something I could relate to more than any film I had seen before. Walter constantly imagining being in another world, doing incredible things and living a lot of his life in his imagination, is something that I did a lot of my adolescent life. I spent a lot of my childhood imagining being in other worlds, in every way from writing to daydreaming. I longed for adventure, to set off on an epic like Frodo or hunt down long lost civilizations like Nathan Drake.
When the opportunity presents itself Walter doesn’t hesitate to venture out for himself, and take on this big adventure, and that struck a cord with me, it lit a fire to go on my own adventure. Sure I wouldn’t be tracking down a world renowned photographer, chasing one image across the globe, but I wanted that adventure. I wanted to stop dreaming about the crazy places and scenarios I would be in, but to go and live them myself.
In addition to the story, the setting of the film was almost as inspiring to me as Ben Stiller’s character. The mountains along the ocean, the waterfalls, the open fields, the volcanoes, it all seemed so surreal. It was astounding to me that these settings were on our planet, but what truly shocked me was they were all in one country: Iceland. I knew that I had to get to Iceland. I knew this was the adventure I had to take. The problem was that getting from Houston, Texas to Reykjavik, Iceland for an incredible adventure wasn’t the easiest thing to pull off as a high schooler. Thus, my dream of venturing to Iceland had to wait to be fulfilled, but all that did was continue to fuel the fire.
In the spring of 2018, five years later, I graduated from college with a little over a month until I started my first job. In that short gap appeared the opportunity to make that adventure a reality. Two and a half weeks split between Northern and Southern Iceland with my girlfriend and longtime friends: that would be my adventure.
For two and a half weeks we drove around exploring the multitude of awe-inspiring locations Iceland has to offer. Every day our schedule was pretty much the same. We would wake up early, draw back the blackout curtains that blocked out the ever-present Icelandic summer sun, then set off in our car to explore until midnight, coming back to crash from exhaustion and do it all over again.
There’s an untouched, natural beauty to Iceland that is getting harder and harder to find in our modern world. A single highway that will take you around the whole country, called the Ring Road, acts as a Sherpa to see everything from iceberg filled glacier lakes to enormous waterfalls. It’s a destination for photographers for a reason, traveling throughout the country you’d find it difficult to take a photo that couldn’t be described as epic.
But it’s not the beauty alone that gets you, it’s the uniqueness of the landscape. Iceland is an island who has been bent to the will of volcanoes, volcanic rock covers vast landscapes that makes it difficult for any sort of farming to occur. Valleys are filled with structures of cooled magma. The heat from the volcanoes powers much of the island and bleeds through the surface through geysers and steam. It’s obvious driving around why everything from Game of Thrones to Oblivion has been filmed here because it truly feels like you’re exploring another planet, a land of fire and ice. One year later, in the full swing of post grad life, that journey feels like it was long ago. But the fire that Walter Mitty lit inside of me six years ago, still burns brighter than ever. The ending of each adventure transitions into the planning of the next. Filmmaking and storytelling are incredible gifts, they transport us to different worlds, get us attached to incredible characters, but perhaps their most powerful ability, is the ability to inspire action in the real world. If I hadn’t seen Walter Mitty six years ago, I may have never taken my adventure. That journey will remain a testament to the power of film to catalyze action and bring moments on the big screen into reality.