Harold Crick’s seemingly mundane life takes a drastic turn as he is faced with inevitable death. Although most of his actions and any meaning in life seem insignificant, his actions in the moments prior to a near death experience have lasting effects on the many individuals around him. As Sartre explains, existentialism relies heavily on the human beings that we interact with daily. Harold Crick’s near death saved the life of one boy and by association or proximity affected the lives of many others. In the same instance, the event was shaped by interacting with other individuals. If it weren’t for a narrator’s voice, an incorrect time given by a stranger, and the encouragement of others to live out his life as he was meant to, Harold Crick would never have had the chance to save the boy’s life. By risking his life to save the life of another, he contained the spread of pain and suffering, for which he was rewarded with life by some miraculous recognition of humanity. Harold Crick did not act rash, he knew very well he could avoid his immediate death. However, he understood that this was what he “must” do. He understood that these moments are the moments that define a life. Sartre quotes, “’Man is nothing else but what he purposes, he exists only in so far as he realizes himself, he is therefore nothing else but the sum of his actions, nothing else but what his life is.’” Upon meeting Ana Pascal and having his life narrated, the once meaningful parts of his life seem less significant and he begins to focus his actions toward the things he has always wanted to do, such as learn how to play the guitar. The other humans in his life give hope to Harold by creating meaning either through simple interactions, casual movie nights, talks about his imminent death or even through bleak talks with the one who is to end Harold’s tragic life.
With the realization and acceptance of the possibility of death as well as the understanding of the responsibility to act as he must, Harold Crick was able to live his life out as fully as he wished. With an understanding of the humanity of the other, Crick’s life is spared and the narrator’s (whom ultimately decided not to kill him) humanity flourishes. When watching or re-watching Stranger Than Fiction, it is difficult to deny the role of intersubjectivity as a key component to the plot. Intersubjectivity is the idea that something can exist between two separate minds, in this case the narrator’s voice is shared between Crick and the author. In the end this results in a series of events that bring many of the character’s lives together. Harold, our protagonist, or perhaps his wristwatch, are no doubt aided by the intersubjective nature of the story’s many characters. Without the realization of one’s humanity and the intersubjective understanding of other people’s humanity and the importance of their presence, the story would be flat. As beings able to understand the humanity of others through intersubjective experiences, the audience plays its own profound role in creating important meaning to the story and the personable characters within the story. All in all, a fine cinematic experience indeed.
Jean-Paul Sartre, in “Existentialism is a Humanism,” explored the possibility of existential philosophy as a way of genuinely living life, not just succumbing to the meaninglessness of that life. He explores the nature of making decisions not based on their morality, but rather on their authenticity. That is, whether the decision was born out of a genuine expression of self, or whether it was an action committed in bad faith, which is a betrayal to the self. Sartre tells his readers, “You are free, therefore choose, that is to say, invent. No rule of general morality can show you what you ought to do: no signs are vouchsafed in this world. The Catholics will reply, “Oh, but they are!” Very well; still, it is I myself, in every case, who have to interpret the signs” (9). In Stranger than Fiction, we encounter Harold Crick, who is able to hear signs more easily than most. When he finds himself the subject of a narrative that only he can hear, he discovers that this narrator knows intimate details about him. Sometimes she describes what is happening, but often she alludes to what will happen. Harold begins quite literally to attempt to read the signs that the narrator is delivering to him. On the advice of Jules Hilbert, a sometimes-helpful English professor Harold has sought out, he attempts to piece together whether his life fits better into a comedy or a tragedy, at one point announcing dejectedly, “This may sound like gibberish to you, but I think I’m in a tragedy.” Harold has to decide for himself whether he wants to follow the story being narrated for him or if he wants to try to fight against this voice that appears to be controlling his life. At times he seems willing to go along with the narrator, indeed, most of his interactions with Ana Pascal, his love interest in the film, are prompted by narration. However, we can also acknowledge that Harold’s decision to pursue Ana seems to come as a result of a growing commitment to authenticity. When, at the narrator’s request, he goes to her, all he is able to express is “I want you.” This is a reflection of Harold having at last deeply connected with what he wants, beyond what his job or any other external actor (including, even, the narrator) demands of him. He is, for the first time, acting decidedly in good faith. He knows what he genuinely wants, and he won’t let anything prevent him from expressing this simple, honest, vulnerable truth. Ultimately, Harold interprets the signs of his own life by following along with a narration that seems to lead him down the path of the tragic. Although Harold’s life seems at times to be completely controlled by the narrations, it is clear that, in the end, he does have the power to choose for himself the kind of life he wants to live and, in doing so, makes the decision that no one else is able to make.