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Movie Quote Monday – Stranger Than Fiction

I know I say this nearly every time, but I love this movie.  I LURV it!

I listed this as a favorite on the 2011 Movie Quote Monday page, but it’s quite long so I never used it in a post.  But last Thursday I heard an interview with Clay Morgan in which this particular quote was mentioned, and now I can’t get it out of my head.  So, I decided to share my brains with you.  You’re welcome.

Apparently, he referenced this scene in his new book, Undead.  I haven’t gotten to it in the book yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing how Clay uses this quote.  I can’t begin to get into Undead in a couple of sentences here, but it examines the fact that we can live without really being alive.  I can see that idea playing out in Stranger Than Fiction.

So, if you haven’t seen this movie, then you should.  But in the meantime, you need to know that Harold has begun hearing a woman’s voice in his head, narrating his life.  As confusing as that is to him, it takes on new significance when she announces Harold’s “imminent death”.  In his search to find a cure for this little problem, he meets a literature professor who is more interested in the literary quality of the narrative than in Harold’s fate.

Professor Hilbert:  You were right.  This narrator might very well kill you, so I humbly suggest that you just forget all this and go live your life.
—Harold:  Go live my life?  I am living my life.  I’d like to continue to live my life.
Professor Hilbert: *signs* I know.  Of course.  I mean all of it.  However long you have left.  You know, I mean, 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.  Who in their right mind in a choice between pancakes and living…chooses pancakes?
Professor 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.
Professor Hilbert:  Absolutely.  So just go make it the one you’ve always wanted.

This really is a beautiful movie, about a man who was living a painfully ordinary life.  When something extraordinary occurs in that nearly lifeless existence, he chooses to turn his life into the one he wants.  And when the time comes to make a much harder decision, he chooses life once again, in a profound way.

Choosing to live the life you always wanted isn’t easy.  For one thing, some of us can’t define for ourselves what that even looks like.  And when we think we do  know, that just leads to more work, more effort and sometimes even pain.  And, you know, I like pancakes; pancakes sound pretty good, right?

What I think is there are plenty of people out there choosing pancakes.  

These last few weeks, I’ve been aching to get a tattoo of the word “choose”.  Because I do – I choose every day, every hour, every moment.  I choose what kind of life I want to live, what kind of person I want to be.  What physical and spiritual nourishment I put into my body.  I choose how I treat myself and others.  

I am constantly choosing who I am.

I don’t always choose well, but at least I stopped ordering the pancakes.


So, what do you think?

Can it be as simple as choosing to live your life to the fullest – at least within the limits of your capabilities?

Or is it way more complicated than that?

17 Comments Post a comment
  1. First off… that movie is the absolute best, most genius movie I think I have ever seen, and you are in fact the only person outside of my family who I know, who has actually seen it! I love it to bits, it is so good AND I love this post!

    And to answer your question? I think it IS possible to live life to the fullest simply by choosing, because I don’t think it depends on your limitations of what circumstances hold you back, it is your attitude that makes you. As an example, if you only have enough money to buy water and no lunch, you don’t sulk and wish you had more food. Consider the millions who have no water at all, and consider the good that water is doing for your body. What I class as “living life to the full” is not the amount you are able to achieve, it is what you achieve within what you are given by choosing to achieve it.

    September 17, 2012
    • It is the absolute best! And why am I not surprised that you love the movie? “I brought you flours.” I mean, don’t you just love it?

      One of my favorite scenes is when she’s narrating as he files. The setting is so stark and surreal in it’s white bright lightness. And little did he know that those clicking heels were bringing him a file that would help change his life. And it came to him in that sterile place, that place of sameness and monotony, where the sounds of those files were like an endless wave of nothingness.

      Thanks for answering the question! You give a great example, and it reminds me of my thankfuls, too. I am getting to that point again where I stop and think, “but even so, I’m thankful for…” It’s coming quicker this time around. Choosing the “right” path isn’t necessarily easy, but this is a long term process, isn’t it? You seem to be making great choices in your life, and I’m so glad you have a healthy attitude!

      September 17, 2012
  2. I always want to make sure that my life is a choice and not something I’m just going along with. I’m always reevaluating my happiness, my career, my geographic location… It’s important to be proactive in my own life.

    That said, I think that this constant reevaluation can create self doubt and a fear that I’m missing out on something better. There is a theory that the increase in choices has contributed to the decline in happiness since the 1950s. Meaning, the fact that I believe that anything is possible is creating anxiety? Like if I were a cave person (or a 1950s housewife) I’d just nest and gather and not worry so much?

    Still, the fact is that anything is possible and I’m not going to pretend it’s not. I guess I’d rather deal with a little anxiety than shield myself to possibly amazing opportunities.

    September 17, 2012
    • Oh, that’s a great point! I have usually tended in the opposite direction from you, not giving enough thought to my life. Or rather, not liking some things, but simply giving up instead of working to make it better – not utilizing my choices. I have certainly over-analyzed before too (okay, plenty), but the result is the same: freezing up and giving up.

      That theory makes sense to me. There are so many choices available to us! Just in the grocery store, look down the cereal aisle and you can be overwhelmed just choosing something to eat for breakfast! Choices are great, and like you, I’d rather have them than not. But…where do we stop? If the grass is always greener somewhere else, and that’s what you’re chasing, then you’ll never stop running.

      Thanks for commenting, Jill! I love it when someone gives me a perspective I didn’t consider. So much to think about!

      September 17, 2012
  3. I haven’t watched this movie but now you’ve made me want to go out and grab a copy. 🙂

    “I choose every day, every hour, every moment.” – I absolutely adore this and couldn’t agree more. It’s too easy to just blame others or the situation but to say I choose – that is taking ownership of our lives. I don’t think it’s complicated but it takes a strong and very determined person to carry it through. Choosing to live life to the fullest is a burden because you become so conscious of it, especially when you feel like you’re falling a little short. This is why I love your blog and I’m so glad I ‘met’ you. You inspire me with your positive attitude and to push on with my own journey.

    September 20, 2012
    • You’re so sweet, and I have to say that you basically stole the words out of my mouth that I would use to describe you and your blog. I have so often been inspired by you – like the thankfulness ring your friend made you. You talk honestly about sometimes struggling with things in life, and that makes me know I’m never alone in that.

      If you see the movie, I hope you like it!

      September 22, 2012
  4. Aaah I really like Stranger Than Fiction! Reading your post made me go and watch it again. Especially the pancake scene.

    As for your question, I think it is more complicated than that, but generally, living your life to the fullest, the best you can, works. This is because, you don’t always make the best decisions, and sometimes one bad decision can influence the next and so on until you have no idea what you got yourself into. But even with the bad ones you have the satisfaction of having tried to take things into your hand. 🙂

    February 16, 2013
    • I think you’ve got it right. It’s a simple matter of living your life to the fullest, but living your life to the fullest can be a complicated thing. That’s true for me, anyway. I don’t always know what living my life to the fullest means for me. To be honest, I live a generally subdued life, and when I think about getting the most out of this life, then that requires a whole lot of effort from me. That’s the complicated part – I am mostly happy to be a homebody who doesn’t do a whole hell of a lot. But I think that’s wasting this tiny bit of time I have here. I don’t want to be like Harold Crick, with days full of nothingness. But it’s hard to make myself stretch further than these walls I live in. It’s an interesting circle of thought.

      February 17, 2013
      • Yeah, we all get comfortable in our own spaces 🙂

        Btw, an interesting though occurred to me. Have you heard of greedy algorithms? If you know what algorithms are, here’s a quick definition: Generally an algorithm has to solve a problem in the best possible way. It may be a problem like, ‘find the largest number in a set’, or something more complicated like, ‘perform as many tasks are possible in the smallest time interval’. Greedy algorithms solve these problems by dividing the problem into small steps and optimizing it at Each step. So that means, you can divide the large set of numbers into many small sets, and from each set you choose the largest. Obviously, after doing this a few times, you will get the largest number from the entire set.
        If you have followed this so far, then here is food for thought: can this kind of an algorithm work in our daily lives? Can we choose the best every day and be assured of having lived the best life possible?

        February 20, 2013
        • I’ve never heard of that, but it’s interesting. If you did that with your life, it reminds me of some things we’ve all talked about before – like writing down things you’re thankful for every day and the post about Blade Runner and how we do kind of manipulate how we remember things. You had good comments about that. I think it would really work, because you’d be living the same life, but only pulling out the good stuff to focus on and remember. There is a lot to that, to focusing on the positive in your life instead of the negative. I’ve been in that place before, but I didn’t maintain it and that makes me sad.

          February 25, 2013
          • ” I think it would really work, because you’d be living the same life, but only pulling out the good stuff to focus on and remember.”
            That’s a different interpretation from what I had in mind. What I thought of was using this algorithm to make decisions in life, and therefore, actually changing the way we go about life.
            Following my interpretation, I think life would actually not be better, because we would be tempted to do whatever is the best at that moment, without bothering about future events. So that would mean marrying your first boyfriend, giving into impulses about buying a house etc. which you might not be able to sustain in future. 😛

            Following your interpretation though, I think you’ve summed it up pretty well – without actually using the algorithm to change our lives, we would just be choosing the best thing to focus on at every moment. 🙂

            I think it’s very hard for anyone to maintain, not just you.

            February 26, 2013
          • I misunderstood how it was used. In that case, I agree with you. It’s like the memory thing again, or having the chance to re-do parts of your life. The thing is that you don’t know where those new choices will lead you, and it may not be a better thing at all. I think you hit it on the head too, that you’d be so focused one thing, at that very moment, that you wouldn’t be taking in your life as a whole. And also, I just wouldn’t want to live like that. I think we need to make mistakes and go the wrong way sometimes. That’s how we learn what we really want for ourselves, what is really important to us and all that stuff. It’s a very interesting idea, though.

            February 26, 2013
  5. Wally #

    Are you saying pancakes are bad? Because I resent that. I almost always order pancakes when I go to Ihop, and I love them.

    March 30, 2014
    • Haha, I love pancakes too. No bad feelings intended toward pancakes, I assure you. 🙂

      Mmmm… and now I’ve got a taste for them stuck in my head.

      March 30, 2014
  6. jdana #

    I think what he’s saying is , we are all going to die so quit worrying about it and live. It’s all about the comparison of the “quality of the Pancakes” vs the “quality of the life”. If the pancakes are great and you love them then eat them , they may not be the healthiest for you but then again you might die tomorrow from a freak accident. In other words enjoy your life and do what makes you happy vs living a long and boring uneventful life.

    May 20, 2016
    • Yes, absolutely – it’s all about the quality of the pancakes – making your life what you want it to be.

      May 21, 2016

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