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While filming, Will Ferrell wore an earpiece that fed him Dame Emma Thompson's narrative lines, in order to assist the other cast members in reacting more naturally to Ferrell's seemingly non sequitur lines.
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When Harold is asked the product of 67 and 453, he actually gives the correct answer, "30,351", the first time. His second answer of "31,305" is incorrect.
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A single page of the book can be glimpsed if this movie is paused, while Professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman) is reading it. The page quotes word-for-word the opening narration of this movie as Harold goes about his day. The page also contains a detail that is not mentioned otherwise, Harold's co-worker Diane Gordon has been in love with him since the eighth grade, but is too shy to say so, and in the shown page when Harold requests a file from her, she asks for clarification in the hopes he might once say "good morning" to her.
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Professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman) creates a questionnaire of twenty-three items for Harold Crick (Will Ferrell). Professor David Hilbert, the German mathematician, proposed a famous list of twenty-three problems at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Paris in 1900. Hilbert's problems became so famous that they are typically referred to by number amongst mathematicians and philosophers, and several are still unanswered.
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This movie borrowed heavily from "Niebla" by Miguel de Unamuno, a Spanish novel about a character who becomes aware he is being narrated by a writer and goes to visit him. In de Unamuno's story, however, the main character commits suicide.
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When Karen (Dame Emma Thompson) first meets Penny (Queen Latifah), she mentions a photograph of a beautiful woman who had committed suicide by jumping from a building. This refers to an actual event, in which 23-year-old Evelyn McHale leapt to her death from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building on May 1, 1947. A full-page photo of her body was published in LIFE Magazine later that month, which is the photo to which Karen is referring.
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The last names of all of the characters (and the bus line and publishing firm names) are the names of mathematicians, scientists, engineers, artists, et cetera, (Harold) Francis Crick, with Watson and Wilkins, found the structure of DNA; (Ana) Blaise Pascal, French mathematician and philosopher; (Karen) Gustave Eiffel, engineer and designer of the Eiffel Tower; (Penny) M.C. Escher, Dutch graphic artist; (Dr.) Magnus Gustaf Mittag-Leffler, Swedish mathematician; (Professor Jules) David Hilbert, German mathematician; (Doctor) Gerardus Mercator, sixteenth century Flemish cartographer; (Kronecker Bus Line) Leopold Kronecker, German-born mathematician and logician; (Banneker Press) Benjamin Banneker, free African-American mathematician, astronomer, clockmaker, and publisher; (Dr. Cayly) Arthur Cayley, nineteenth century British mathematician. Even Dave (no last name) seems to be a reference to the main character from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). It is speculated that these characters can possibly be the "heroes" of the writer.
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The title of the movie comes from a famous quote from Lord Byron's "Don Juan": "'Tis strange, but true; for truth is always strange; Stranger than fiction: if it could be told, How much would novels gain by the exchange! How differently the world would men behold!"
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The movie Harold sees in the theater after he is instructed to "live his life" is Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983).
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Several references are made to René Magritte's painting "Son of Man", once when Harold is running to the bus stop with the green apple in his mouth, and again when he is talking to the doctor at the office, sitting in front of a wall painted with clouds.
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The novel which Karen Eiffel (Dame Emma Thompson) is writing is called "Death and Taxes". This is a reference to the famous quote, "In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes", written by Benjamin Franklin in a 1789 letter addressed to Jean-Baptiste Leroy.
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The name of Ana Pascal's (Maggie Gyllenhaal's) bakery is "The Uprising".
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A list on Professor Jules Hilbert's classroom chalkboard contains "Mountolive's ear aches, Liza's blindness, Clea's amputated hand, Leila's smallpox, Justine's stroke, and Pombal's gout". These are many of the primary characters from 'The Alexandria Quartet' of novels by Lawrence Durrell. These four books (Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, and Clea) tell the basically same story from different points of view and explore relationships of people and ideas and concepts of life and mortality as seen through the theme of modern love.
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The watch featured in this movie is a Timex Men's Watch #T56371, Ironman Triathlon 42 Lap Combo Dual Tech, though in this movie, the watch's LCD display is CG enhanced to present clearer graphics. The actual watch is a simple nine segment per character LCD alphanumeric mode display with three lines, and some special-indicators.
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A recurring theme is how Harold's wristwatch changes his life. There are several scenes in which Harold sits on the bench outside Ana's bakery. There is a large, round window in the wall that resembles a watch face through which Harold looks at Ana.
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When Dave (Tony Hale) turns on the light in his apartment, it makes the same sound the communicators make on Star Trek (1966).
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The "old cinema" movie Harold and Ana are watching together is A Man and a Woman (1966) by Claude Lelouch.
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Harold's two co-workers, played by T.J. Jagodowski and Peter Grosz, appear together in a series of commercials for Sonic Drive-In.
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The guitar that the narrator describes by saying "I'm compensating for something. Guess what?" is a Cherry Gibson EDS-1275, the guitar made famous by Jimmy Page.
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Small math and science references were slipped in, such as references to Euclid Street (a reference to Euclidean Geometry) and the Spoon song "My Mathematical Mind", which plays during a sequence near the end of this movie.
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In an early scene, on-screen graphics appear that resemble an image used to illustrate the golden ratio. In mathematics and the arts, two quantities are in the golden ratio if the ratio between the sum of those quantities and the larger one is the same as the ratio between the larger one and the smaller. This ratio can be expressed as a mathematical constant (1.618...), usually denoted by the Greek letter Phi.
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The book that Professor Jules Hilbert is reading on the lifeguard stand is "I for Innocent" by Sue Grafton.
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When Professor Jules Hilbert is speaking to Harold in his classroom, there is a list on the chalkboard behind him of four characters from "The Alexandria Quartet", a four-book set of novels by Lawrence Durrell, published between 1957 and 1960.
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While Harold is in the HR cubicle of his office, the clouds in the mural behind him can be seen moving as soon as he starts thinking of his love interest, Ana.
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When Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) sits down on the bus, in which he again encounters baker Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a building with the word "Drury" can be seen on a sign in the background (on the front wall of the bus). In the popular nursery rhyme, Drury Lane is where the Muffin Man lived. However, Drury Lane is also a theatre in Chicago, Illinois, where this movie was filmed. While the city is never mentioned, visual clues to the city abound throughout this movie. When Harold is sprinting to the first payphone, the sculpture that resides in Daly Plaza can be seen. When he starts to read the first draft of the novel on the bus, one of the Marina City Towers can be seen through the bus window. Other famous Chicago locations, like the John Hancock Building and the Sun Times Building, are visible in various scenes throughout this movie.
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Will Ferrell is left-handed. However, he played a right-handed guitar in this movie. This may be why he is shown playing a simple song comprising only two chords (in Ana's apartment).
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The title may be a reference to writer Mark Twain's quote: "Why shouldn't truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense."
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In the first scene where Will Ferrell meets Dustin Hoffman, Hoffman makes multiple references to Ferrell counting various items or objects. Hoffman also starred in Rain Man (1988) where his character randomly and accurately counted things like toothpicks.
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Harold writes and feeds himself left-handed, but plays the guitar right-handed. Will Ferrell is mostly left-handed, but plays baseball (both batting and throwing) right-handed.
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Based on the narrative from Karen Eiffel, Harold would have worked on about 21,293 tax files as a Senior Agent for the Internal Revenue Service over 2,985 non-holiday workdays.
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Just after Harold's apartment gets demolished, and Professor Hilbert advises him to go live his life, Professor Hilbert hums "Rule Britannia" as he walks away from Harold.
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Karen Eiffel narrated 130 lines of her novel, excluding repeated lines due to interruptions, but including sentences that start with "And".
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The guitar that the narrator describes by saying "Why yes, these pants are Lycra", is a Gibson Flying V Korina. The white one next to it is a normal Flying V.
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When Karen Eiffel is leaning on Professor's Hilbert book case, there are several books about cooking that can be seen: "Plain Cooking", "Electric Blender Recipies", "A Year of Diet Desserts", "Cooking and Brownies", and "The Slim Gourmet Book".
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Maggie Gyllenhaal appeared in another movie where the main character's name was Crick. Waterland (1992) has a main character using the surname of Crick (Tom Crick), played by Jeremy Irons, and that was Maggie's theatrical movie debut.
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Marge Champion's last movie and she would die some years later at the age of 101 years.
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The guitar chosen by Harold is a Fender Stratocaster.
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The cigarettes that Dame Emma Thompson smokes in this movie are American Spirits.
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The amplifier Harold uses is a Fender Blonde Blues Junior.
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While Harold is brushing his teeth, the on-screen graphics with the number of brush strokes are replaced with "ANA," signifying his thoughts wondering from his usual counting rituals to his love interest.
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Despite playing the guitars right-handed, Harold does everything else left-handed.
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The movie's cast includes three Oscar winners, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson and Linda Hunt. It includes three additional Oscar nominees Maggie Gyllenhall, Queen Latifah, and Tom Hulce
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Dustin Hoffman and Dame Emma Thompson appeared in Last Chance Harvey (2008) and The Meyerowitz Stories (2017).
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Dame Emma Thompson and Maggie Gyllenhaal appeared in Nanny McPhee Returns (2010).
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The song that begins playing when Harold stops counting his brush strokes and then goes to the guitar shop is titled "I Turn My Camera On", symbolizing the way he is flipping the switch on his "new life".
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The name of Karen Eiffel's novel alludes to the phrase "Nothing is certain, except death and taxes." Despite this, Harold dodges death and Ana dodges her taxes.
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