That is the question that lies before this story’s protagonist. Harold, played by none other than Will Ferrell. Harold is an IRS agent whose attention to detail is only matched by his fear of truly living his life. Because Harold fears pain, rejection, chaos, and most of all, death, he creates an extremely regimented routine of isolation. Harold is the classic example of a man so paralyzed by the fear of death that he cannot live his own life. Instead of risking himself to love his neighbor, he falls back upon the letter of the law.
Harold’s life is turned upside down when, out of nowhere, he hears the voice of a woman narrating his life. It turns out this was the voice of his own novelist Karen Eiffel, played by Emma Thompson. She is writing a story in which Harold is the protagonist. As you may well imagine, the voice-over narration is unsettling and threatening to the safe little life Harold has constructed around him.
Harold begins to see his life as a story, although that original question haunts him day and night. Will his life have a happy ending and thus become a comedy; or will his life end in dramatic death, acquiring the label of “tragedy?” At first flustered, then disturbed, Harold’s fear turns to terror when he finally comes to terms with his own life as a tragedy. He accepts life on the terms that he will, indeed, one day die.
Here is when the story gets good.
When Harold embraces the reality that he will one day die, he begins to really live. He takes a few days off work, buys a Stratocaster, and moves in (albeit out of necessity) with his coworker (who other than Tony Hale?). Harold also pursues a relationship with a beautiful, tempestuous baker, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. He has finally overcome so many of the fears that have kept him from living all these years and we rejoice at seeing his growth as a human being.
But then he finds out one more troubling fact about his writer. She has a habit of killing her main characters. Harold’s old terror has now become desperation and determination to have a personal meeting with his author. Surely his life could not end in death if he could just meet with her.
Here is when the story gets really good.
When Harold and his author finally meet, she has already written the end of his story. His own death is now surely immanent. Through a series of events (oh yeah, I forgot to mention Dustin Hoffman is in the movie!), Harold sits down to read his own story. The ending is brilliant. The ending is too poetic, too perfect, too full of life and love to avoid. The story must end with Harold’s death. There is no other way.
I don’t want to ruin it for you because you should see it for yourself. Suffice to say that Harold is a lot like us. Too afraid to live his life for fear of death, failure, tragedy and the like, he shuts out the world around him- that is, of course, until he understands that life is meant to be lived and not stored away and protected. He faces the fact that only his writer will choose the meaning of his life. His job is to submit to the will of his author.
It is like Jesus in the garden on the night he was arrested for death. Think about it, Jesus knew exactly the painful suffering that would soon come over him. Jesus knew that his best friends would soon desert him. He knew that the cross was only hours before him. He knew his Father would look away from him, abandoning him on the cross. He knew he would die.
So why did Jesus go forward into his own death?
Jesus entrusted his life over to his Father. He knew that route would include unspeakable pain, separation and agony, but he also knew that his Father was indescribably good. He knew that his Father was writing a story too perfect for him to run away from his death.
Here is when the story gets really, really good.
You see, Jesus’ story has now become our story. His trust has become our trust. His obedience has become our obedience. His death has become our death and his life has become our life.
Of course we know that the death of Jesus was not the end but really the beginning. He could not stay dead. Emma Thompson’s character said it best:
If the man does know he is going to die and dies anyway, dies willingly, when he could stop it, then…is that not the type of man you want to keep alive?