I’ll note right now that I went into this documentary absolutely blind. I know nothing about JD Salinger beyond the fact that he wrote Catcher in the Rye and fought in World War II. So I honestly can say nothing in regards to the veracity of anything that was said in the documentary. I can, however, tell you if I liked it.
And… I mostly did. The focus was definitely more on JD Salinger himself than on his works, which makes sense. There were quite a few interesting interviews, which covered his more reclusive days, his lingering trauma from the second world war, and his (in my opinion) incredibly creepy thing for really young women. What I found most interesting about the people discussing his reclusive tendencies was the divide between those who really saw him as Howard Hughes in author form, and those who pointed out he wasn’t a true recluse, because he still reached outside his own world and seemed very conscious of the power behind his name. (And used that power on the aforementioned really young women.)
Really, the best and most powerful piece of the entire film was the portion about Salinger’s experiences during World War II… and the fact that he continued to write through all of it. The continued struggle to keep writing no matter what is something I really appreciated as a writer (though obviously, I have never experienced that kind of adversity, and hope that I never will). Also, his determination to be published in the New Yorker really struck a chord. (And nice to know rejection letters really haven’t changed much.)
I also found notable the interview with a fan of Salinger, who had gone to the man’s home and wanted to speak with him. Going in to Salinger’s antagonistic relationship with his own fame was something I found fascinating, particularly the way people would feel as if they had a deep connection to him because of the way they related to his work and felt they were entitled to his time.
While I still don’t think it was anything close to a full portrait of the man, it did all add up to a very multidimensional picture of a human being deeply wounded, intensely flawed, and beautiful.
So all of that was excellent, and kept my attention.
Unfortunately, there was a lot about the documentary I didn’t like. All of the above that I spoke of was done with interviews and fairly sparing analysis from the director. But there was a lot of flash and bombast that kept making me ask why is this necessary. The music was often intrusive and frankly annoying. There was also reenactment footage (way too much of it, in my opinion) which really did not add any value; rather, it was more distracting than anything else. Seriously, the movie didn’t need minute upon minute of a man, smoking, clacking away at a typewriter while the music pounded home that something portentous had happened.
If you’ll have a hard time concentrating on Catcher in the Rye with the knowledge of the more sordid aspects of the author’s life banging around in your head, I’d recommend skipping this one. And if you’re hoping for more depth about Salinger’s work, this documentary won’t cut it. Salinger might have believed that a writer should be known solely through his work, but the documentary was determined to find out as much as possible about the man himself. If only it could have worked on that question without the music.