Stranger Than Fiction
This is a story about a man named Harold Crick and his wristwatch. Harold Crick was a man of infinite numbers, endless calculations, and remarkably few words. And his wristwatch said even less.
Mundane IRS auditor Harold Crick (played by Will Ferrell) was minding his own business, living his daily routine, when one day, he begins to hear a voice... the voice of an author. Her voice follows him everywhere, narrating his daily activities, much to his annoyance. After all, there's not much to narrate. Beyond going to work, brushing his teeth, and eating meals alone, nothing at all happens worth narrating. Until he hears one line that changes everything. "Little did he know that this simple, seemingly innocuous act would result in his imminent death."
That one narration is enough to thrust Harold into action, eager to do anything it takes to avoid his death. Though told he's schizophrenic by the psychologist he sees, Harold refuses to believe such a prognosis. Instead, he seeks out the foremost professor in literature, Dr. Jules Hilbert. Hilbert quizzes him extensively on the narrator, then sets Harold to figuring out whether he's in a comedy or tragedy. After all, in a comedy he'll get hitched, but in a tragedy he'll die.
The film also gives us the perspective of Karen Eiffel, an author currently suffering from severe writer's block. Apparently she's been working on this novel for quite some time, but is at a complete loss at how to kill off her protagonist... one Mr. Harold Crick.
The film is notable for its all-star cast and for placing Will Ferrell in an uncharacteristically dramatic role... and with good results!
- Addiction Displacement: at the end, Karen Eiffel's assistant Penny gets her the patch to replace her cigarettes, but it's left unclear whether Karen will give up her addiction or not.
- Adorkable: Not at first but when he's quietly playing guitar when he thinks his date isn't watching, she clearly thinks he's this trope.
- An Aesop: Smoking is bad!
- And the Aesop that Harold learns in both the book and the film is that it's important to actually relish life and do things with it.
- Arc Words: "Harold's life was full of moments both significant and mundane." It also references the notion without the exact words a few times.
- "Little did he know..."
- Author's Saving Throw: Amazingly enough, an in-universe example. Karen Eiffel decides that she doesn't want Harold Crick to die after all, so she writes another ending that she admits is a Deus Ex Machina. Her novel was initially about someone who dies unexpectedly, but when she meets Harold Crick, he gave his life willingly, knowing what she had planned for him and that it was for the greater good. She decides to revise the story she's already written so that it works with the new ending, but you don't see the results.
- Black Comedy: Slightly. Professor Hilber's casual mention of Harold's death and Harold's own mounting hysteria over the subject is, frankly, a bit funny to watch.
- Related to below, Karen's Break the Haughty scene and her imagining potential deaths for Harold are also funny.
- Bookworm: Dr. Jules Hilbert, justified since he's a professor in literature and one of the notable names in his field.
- Break the Haughty: This happens to Karen Eiffel, successful and assured in her own abilities until she realizes everything she's been writing is true, and she may have killed actual people with her last books.
- Butterfly of Doom: Variant: If not for a trivial event at the beginning of the movie, the events leading up to Harold Crick's untimely death would not have happened.
- Chekhov's Gun: The watch. Repeatedly pointed out as such.
- Chekhov's Gunman: You know that kid with the bike and the job-hunting woman that show up unexplained in the beginning of the movie? Unsurprisingly, they're important.
- In fact, their multiple appearance suggest that Eiffel is trying to figure out how to make them fit this trope.
- They may even be the other protagonists, central to the book but not to the movie.
- In fact, their multiple appearance suggest that Eiffel is trying to figure out how to make them fit this trope.
- Cigarette of Anxiety: Karen Eiffel has a particularly affecting scene after she might have killed Harold Crick where she tries to anxiously light a cigarette before just grabbing it and tearing it apart.
- Cover Drop: The disc image is a green apple which helps inspire Eiffel's ending.
- Deadpan Snarker: Karen Eiffel.
Penny: "And I suppose you smoked all these cigarettes?"
Karen: "No. They came pre-smoked."
- Penny too, in a quiet, subtle, lethal way:
Penny: "Yeah, they said you were funny."
- Design Student's Orgasm: Well, more of an auditor's orgasm. Harold's number-obsessed view of the world shows up as hovering numbers and graphs that expand out of the objects he's analyzing.
- Not nearly as much as the end credit sequence, especially after watching the special features about the the design company.
- Fourth Wall Observer: A variation: Harold can hear the narrator, but turns out the Fourth Wall isn't technically up in the first place.
- Freak-Out: Eiffel goes through one when she realizes Harold was real, and starts wondering if she really killed people with her previous books.
- But not before Harold has his own. The guy does find out he is going to die in a pretty unconventional and profound way, after all. That poor, poor lamp...
- Genre Savvy/Wrong Genre Savvy: (Played with. The professor is Genre Savvy because he studies literature, but they can't take advantage of it because they don't know what kind of story Harold Crick is in.)
- Once the professor actually believes Harold is being narrated (due to the "little did he know" line below), he instantly starts displaying his Genre Savvy.
Jules: Come back next week. Wait, you could be dead by then. Come back tomorrow.
- Granola Girl: Ana Pascal, our resident baker.
- Heroic Sacrifice: When Harold Crick reads the ending Karen Eiffel finally decided on: that he is killed by a bus after pushing a child out of the way: he decides that it's a sacrifice worth making, and goes through with it with full knowledge of the consequences.
- In addition, both the novel and the film itself treat Harold's watch as its own character. When the bus slams into Harold, the first thing it hits is his watch:-which is destroyed, but a part of it becomes embedded permanently in his arm and slows down the hemorrhage that would have killed him otherwise. So just like Harold stepped in front of a bus to save a child, his watch took the brunt of the hit for him.
- Ice Cream Koan: "A tree doesn't... think it's a tree? It is a tree!"
- "Of course, trees were trees. Harold knew trees were trees."
- I Know You Know I Know: Inverted hilariously when Harold mentions to Professor Hilbert that the narrator said "Little did he know":
- Important Haircut
- Lemony Narrator: In-universe example with Karen Eiffel's narration. Notable that she's not a man (though she is British), unlike most examples of this trope.
- Like You Were Dying: The premise of the movie. Harold thinks he's going to die soon. Professor Hilbert's advice is to do whatever it is he's always wanted to and never had the chance to
Professor Hilbert: Hell Harold, you could just eat nothing but pancakes if you wanted.
Harold: What is wrong with you? Hey, I don't want to eat nothing but pancakes, I want to live! I mean, who in their right mind in a choice between pancakes and living chooses pancakes?
Professor Hilbert: Harold, if you pause to think, you'd realize that that answer is inextricably contingent upon the type of life being led... and, of course, the quality of the pancakes.
- Literary Agent Hypothesis: The suggestion throughout that the book Karen was working on would ultimately become this film.
- Liz Lemon Job: Karen Eiffel's publisher hires a "personal assistant" to make sure she finishes her new novel.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Ms. Pascal is one of the things that gives Harold something to live for.
- Morning Routine: How the movie starts.
- Mouth Cam: When Harold Crick brushes his teeth.
- No Antagonist: Harold is simply dealing with the narration of his life and the fact that he's going to die soon. Karen is just working through writer's block, and has no idea that she's affecting Harold's life. Even when they meet, their relationship isn't antagonistic; Karen has massive doubts over killing Harold, but can't think of another way to end the story.
- No Fourth Wall
- Oh, and X Dies: Early in the novel (and film), it's made clear that Harold is going to die at the end, and this is what kicks off his quest. He doesn't, however.
- Painting the Fourth Wall: For us. The narrator in any other movie would be the normal narrator, but here the main character reacts to a voice, as you do when someone describes your life in detail.
- Post Modernism
- Rage Against the Heavens/Rage Against the Author
- Railroading: When Harold Crick tries staying at home all day, doing nothing, in order to prevent the plot from moving forward, a wrecking crew tears a hole in his apartment wall.
- Reality Writing Book
- Roofless Renovation
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: According to the professor, all of Karen Eiffel's previous novels have ended this way, and the rough draft of Harold Crick's story is no different.
- Shout-Out: Every person in the movie is named for a mathematician, scientist, or engineer. Likewise the streets. And Eiffel's publisher. Just about everything named, actually.
- Slipstream: Genre-wise, it's more this than Magical Realism, both in terms of the movie itself and possibly in Karen's book, what with the watch being portrayed as vaguely sentient.
- Take Our Word for It: The brilliance of Eiffel's original ending.
- Take That: in universe. The reason Harold is able to find Karen Eiffel is because she had been audited ten years prior, which is also around the time she started writing a book about an IRS agent who would inevitably die.
- There Are No Therapists: Played with; A therapist is one of the first people Harold visits, and though his problem is outside her field (she just thinks it's schizophrenia), she does help point him to Dr. Hilbert.
- Trademark Favorite Food: Professor Hilbert's copious coffee consumption.
- Trailers Always Lie: The movie was portrayed as typical Will Ferrel comedy in advertisements, which it is decidedly not.
- What Is One Man's Life in Comparison?: The idea is batted about that maybe the possible contribution to world literature and the greater meaning of his planned death mean that Harold should accept his death as it was written.
- Writers Cannot Do Math: In-universe example. While Harold is being distracted by Karen, someone asks him what the product of 67 and 453 is. He answers with 30351, which Karen says is wrong, and that the real answer is 31305, which he quickly corrects to. Because he is obviously distracted, it seems very probable that he would have gotten it wrong. He hadn't, and had the correct answer the first time. Of course, she may have just been messing with him, but why?
- It's a typo in a movie about a novel. The movie is filled with mathematical references and in-jokes. When a writer names every character after a famous mathematician, they can probably do basic multiplication.
- You Can't Fight Fate: Unless you're writing that fate.
- Maybe. See Temporal Paradox.