Walter Mitty is a shy, insecure negative assets manager at Life Magazine. While he was once bold and adventurous as a young person, the loss of his father when he was 17 forced Walter to begin taking on adult responsibility at a young age, and he feels inhibited as an adult because of his compulsion to play it safe.
As a result of his inhibitions, Walter has developed an imaginative and bold inner life, and a wild imagination—his "secret life." In his imagination, he is an action superhero, a virile lover, an idealized and bold version of himself. Throughout the course of the film, he learns to integrate his outer life with his inner world, and go on all of the adventures he has always wanted to pursue.
Sean O’Connell is a legendary photojournalist for Life. He is a mysterious naturalist who remains unknown to the viewer and to Walter throughout the film. Eventually, Walter manages to track him down in the Himalayas. Sean is wise in many ways, teaching Walter about the importance of living in the moment and celebrating the beauty of the world around him. He is a rugged and untethered man who also has a strong grasp of what matters, eventually paying a heartfelt tribute to Walter with the picture he chooses to grace the final cover of Life.
Ted is the antagonist of the film, a manager at Life who comes in once the company is acquired. He is in charge of downsizing at the company and is a complete bully in this role. He often belittles and makes fun of Walter and the other employees, but at the end of the film, Walter calls him out for treating his inferiors with so little respect.
Cheryl Melhoff is Walter's work crush, a witty and kind employee of Life. She and Walter strike up a bond as they try to piece together the puzzle of Sean O'Connell's whereabouts. Cheryl is a mother to Rich, a young boy with whom Walter turns out to have a great deal in common. Cheryl is put off by Walter's disappearance when he goes on his hero's journey, but charmed by his emotional honesty.
Edna is Walter’s mother, a warm woman who has kept many of Walter's most important belongings over the years. It turns out that she is much more connected to Walter's journey than it initially seems. Her visit with Sean O'Connell before his departure to Greenland, her irresistible clementine cake, and her tendency to save Walter's knick-knacks all become hugely important to the course of events in the film.
Todd is an affable customer service representative from eHarmony, who helps Walter beef up his dating profile. He also eventually comes to Walter's rescue when Walter is detained at the Los Angeles airport.
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