No, not the Bad Religion song but a 2006 film I just watched. It stars Will Ferrell as Harold Crick, an IRS tax officer who discovers that he is a character in a book written by Karen Eifell (Emma Thompson), a novelist notorious for writing tragedies in which their protagonists eventually die.
After being aware of a woman’s voice narrating the events of his life as they unfold, Harold consults a psychologist who diagnosed him with schizophrenia. When Harold explains that the voice talks about him instead of to him, the best advice the shrink could offer is for him to see someone with literary knowledge who can help him unravel the mystery of this tormenting inner voice.
This literary figure comes in the form of Professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), who guides Harold in trying to understand the nature of his predicament. Gradually they forged a relationship based upon the professor’s analysis of the narration (Harold had begun writing notes on what the voice says) and Harold’s need to know what is to become of this novel and his life.
Set in the background is a sub-plot in which Harold falls in love with Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal), an anarcho-feminist baker whom he is auditing for tax-fraud.
Emma Thompson shines as the chain-smoking and super intense novelist Karen Eiffel who struggles to finish her tragic masterpiece and face her conscience when she also discovers that her character is a real, living person.
An existentialist comedy in the vein of The Truman Show and to a lesser extent Lake House or Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Stranger Than Fiction examines the perplexities of creation. An imagined entity is revealed to be an actual being and the identity of the creator is exposed. Harold needs to confront his creator and She needs to decide his fate.
Before you think that this is a ponderous, high-brow art film, its fairly accessible to viewers accustomed to the usual Hollywood fare. Those expecting deeper existential probes will have to seek other avenues. Stranger Than Fiction‘s small triumph is that it manages to evoke just the right amount of philosophical intrigue while keeping it’s viewers interest with little sketches delivered with finesse by Ferrell. Ask for it the next time you’re in the presence of Ah Keong, your friendly mamak table DVD peddler. If he doesn’t have it, he’ll definitely have 300.