Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Everybody knows that your life is a story. But what if a story was your life? Harold Crick is your average IRS agent: monotonous, boring, and repetitive. But one day this all changes when Harold begins to hear an author inside his head narrating his life. The narrator it is extraordinarily accurate, and Harold recognizes the voice as an esteemed author he saw on TV. But when the narration reveals that he is going to die, Harold must find the author of the story, and ultimately his life, to convince her to change the ending of the story before it is too late.
For twelve years, the methodical IRS agent Harold Crick has had a routine lonely life guided by his wristwatch. However, one day he hears the narration of his life in off, telling that he is going to die pretty soon. Meanwhile, he audits Ana Pascal, the owner of a bakery that is in debt with the IRS, and falls in love for her. Harold is advised by Professor Jules Hilbert to change his monotonous lifestyle while he tries to find Karen Eiffel, the author of the story of his life, who is researching means of killing the character, and convince her to change the ending of the story.
Harold Crick, an IRS agent, leads a highly regimented, routinized and solitary life, having few friends besides his co-worker Dave. Suffering from OCD, he has a habit of counting things, like the number of times he brushes each tooth, and the number of steps it takes to get to the bus stop for his daily commute. Because of these issues, he is highly dependent upon his watch, to which he refers often but which he otherwise does not consciously consider. Despite his nature, he hates his job. One day while he is brushing his teeth, he hears the bodiless voice of a British woman eloquently narrating what seems to be his story as he is acting it out. The story not only includes his actions, but what his innermost thoughts and feelings are at the time. The voice comes and goes over time, Harold not knowing the full story based on the missing parts. Not knowing what to do, he brushes the voice aside until the voice says, "little did he know... would result in his imminent death". Knowing that he is not schizophrenic which is the medical diagnosis, Harold turns to literature professor, Jules Hilbert, who becomes Harold's sole confidante in the matter. Hilbert agrees to help him through the literary side of the matter, solely because the voice used the literary convention of "little did he know". Trying to go against the normal in his life partly based on Hilbert's advice, Harold begins to court Ana Pascal, a baker who he is auditing, who detests the very thought of him, but about who he nonetheless cannot stop thinking. In reality, the voice in question belongs to famed novelist, chain smoking and nervous Karen Eiffel, who is under great pressure from her publisher as she has not written anything in ten years due to writer's block. Her books always end with the lead character dying. Harold's story is slowly coming together, but she has not yet worked out how he will die. Harold's fate seems to be in Karen's typing hands, as his story plays out exactly when she types it out. The primary questions then become if Hilbert and Harold can find out that it is Karen writing the story, if so if Harold can locate her, if so if Karen will believe his story, and if so if she will change her artistic vision to save Harold's life... or conversely if the fate between Karen's typewriter and Harold's life can somehow otherwise be broken.
Sometimes art imitates life, sometimes life imitates art. When a voice begins narrating every moment, one mathematically obsessed man becomes distressed and concerned. He begins to be fearful however when it mentions his soon the be death and sets out to fix it.
An I.R.S. auditor suddenly finds himself the subject of narration only he can hear: narration that begins to affect his entire life, from his work, to his love-interest, to his death.
- Harold Crick (Will Farrell) is an IRS auditor who almost compulsively measures, quantifies and rationalizes his life. Suddenly, he becomes aware of a voice narrating his life, "accurately and with a better vocabulary." The voice is that of a writer we learn is struggling with writer's block (Emma Thompson), mostly about the best way to make Harold die. When Harold overhears his impending doom, he takes action, and eventually makes his way to a professor of literary theory (Dustin Hoffman), who helps him understand the implications of the narrative life he is leading. The main story line seems to be around a woman he is auditing, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Realizing he could die at any moment, Harold begins to break free of his limited, orderly life, and joins Gyllenhaal in a romantic relationship. He tracks down Thompson and confronts her with the truth: if she writes about his death, then he will die. But Hoffman is convinced the novel must be written as intended, and Thompson herself is ambivalent. Crick himself reads the novel and encourages her to keep the original ending, which would kill him. Eventually, Thompson writes of the fatal accident, but makes the accident only near-fatal. "If you have someone who willingly, knowingly, goes to his death, well...isn't that the kind of person you want to keep alive?" In the end, there is an ode to Harold, Maggie, Dustin, and most of all, Harold's wristwatch.
Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is an auditor for the Internal Revenue Service, living his entire life based on the timing of his wristwatch. He is given the job to audit an intentionally tax-delinquent baker, Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal) to whom he is awkwardly attracted. On the same day, he begins hearing the voice of a woman that is omnisciently narrating the events in his life, but he is unable to communicate with the voice. On his way home, Harold's watch stops working and he resets it using the time given by a bystander; the voice narrates "little did he know that this simple, seemingly innocuous act would result in his imminent death". Worried over this prediction, Harold turns to a psychiatrist who attributes the voice to schizophrenia. Harold listens to her conclusion without giving importance to it. When he asks what she would advise if it were not schizophrenia, the psychiatrist suggests Harold turn to a literary expert. Harold visits Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), a university professor, and relates his story. Jules first comes to the same conclusion as the psychiatrist, as Harold's dull life is not something commonly seen in novels. However, Jules then recognizes aspects of a literary work in Harold's story ("little did he know"), and encourages him to help identify the author, first by determining if the work is a comedy or a tragedy.
As Harold proceeds to audit Ana, the two begin to fall for each other, but when Harold refuses to accept cookies that Ana made for him on the grounds that they could be viewed as a bribe, Ana angrily tells him to leave, making Harold believe the story is a tragedy. Harold spends the next day at home to try to control his own destiny, but his apartment is partially demolished by a wrecking crew mistaking the building for an abandoned one. Harold reveals these facts to Jules, who believes that Harold cannot control the plot that has been set for him and should accept that he will die, telling Harold to enjoy whatever time he has left to the fullest. Harold takes this to heart; he takes an extended vacation from work, develops his friendship with his co-worker Dave (Tony Hale), fulfills his life dream of learning to play the guitar, and starts to see Ana on a regular basis, helping her to avoid tax issues by claiming charitable offerings. Harold believes he may have mistaken his story and now reassesses it as a comedy. When he returns to Jules with this revelation, Harold inadvertently identifies the voice in his head from a television interview as noted author Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson). Jules, a long-time fan of Karen's works, reveals that in every book she has written the main character has died.
Harold is able to find Karen through tax records, and learns that she is presently struggling from writer's block in how to kill off the character of Harold Crick in her latest book, Death and Taxes, envisioning numerous ways to have Harold die, while her publisher has sent an assistant, Penny (Queen Latifah), to make sure the book gets completed. When Karen learns that Harold is a real person and has experienced everything she's written, she becomes horrified to consider that all of her previous books may have also resulted in the deaths of real people. She tells Harold she has finally written a draft of the ending and his death, but hasn't typed it up yet. Penny suggests Harold read the book and the drafted ending to get his opinion. Harold is unable to bring himself to read it and gives the manuscript to Jules to review. Jules reads it and tells Harold that the manuscript is a masterpiece, his written death integral to its genius.
Though Harold is deeply distressed over his fate, Jules comforts him by stating the inevitability of death - this death at least, will hold a deeper meaning by completing the book. Harold reads the manuscript himself, and comes to the same conclusion and returns the manuscript to Karen, accepting his death. He spends one last night with Ana.
The next day, Harold prepares to return to work after his vacation despite Karen's voice narrating the fateful day as she types up her planned ending. Due to getting the time from the stranger earlier, Harold's watch is three minutes ahead, and he arrives at the bus stop early enough to save a child on a bicycle from being run over by a bus, though he himself is hit by the bus. Karen attempts to write Harold's death, but is unable to do so, and instead claims the watch was the character that died, and that fragments of the watch helped to block the right ulnar artery in Harold's body after the collision, preventing him from bleeding to death.
Harold wakes up to find himself in a hospital, alive though in traction and with several broken bones, with Ana by his side to help him recover. When Jules reads Karen's final manuscript, he notes that the story is weaker without Harold's death. Karen admits the flaw, although she points out that the story was meant to be about a man that unknowingly dies, and this was not the case.
Therefore, she states that she would rather have the story end with Harold alive, changing the dead character to that of the watch which had earlier been personified throughout the film.