Every great writer is fueled by great demons. Whether or not the writer is aware, these inner demons often make their way into stories and essays in hidden ways. As readers, we can choose to interpret them as we please. We will make up theories or question why the author has written about them at all. Usually, writers will go on speaking tours or will answer these questions directly. However, there are some writers who just want to be left alone and kept out of the public eye. One of the most influential and elusive writers of all time is a man named J.D. Salinger, author of the classic and iconic novel The Catcher in the Rye.
Many people, kids and adults, have stated the influence and effect that Salinger’s only published novel has had on them. The immediate connection that people made to Holden Caulfield was unparalleled. His view of the phony life around him and his use of vulgar language made him seem like a real person that everyone could relate to. Due to its vulgarity, unadulterated themes and rebellious nature, The Catcher in the Rye was banned at schools all around the country. Despite its ban, the book topped the best seller’s charts and as Salinger’s fame rose, he slowly became more and more of a recluse in his cabin in New Hampshire.
Before he wrote the groundbreaking novel, Salinger started out just as any writer typically does. He wrote short stories, with the dream of one day being published in The New Yorker. For Salinger, there was no greater achievement that a writer could attain than being published in one of the most influential magazines of his era. Try as he might, Salinger was often rejected under citation of his work being deemed too intellectual for most readers to handle. He wrote story after story and was constantly met with rejection after rejection. When finally his story “Slight Rebellion off Madison” was going to be published in December of 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and The New Yorker thought it wrong to focus on writing. Salinger was distraught by this and eventually enlisted in the U.S. Army in the spring of 1942.
During his time in World War II, Salinger saw things that no one should ever have to. He witnessed Nazi concentration camps firsthand and saw his friends lose limbs and lives. On D-Day, Salinger was carrying with him the first few chapters of what became Catcher. As he spent more time in the field, his state of mind slowly deteriorated. More than likely this came as a result of the horrible things he witnessed in combat, which directly influenced his writing. After the war ended, he returned home with a German bride. She was his first wife for a very small portion of time and the two eventually divorced.
Once home, Salinger spent most of his time writing and seeking more publications to submit his work to. His story “The Bananafish” was finally accepted by The New Yorker and became one of the many articles of Salinger’s which they would run. With his personal troubles escalating, Salinger often tried to search for innocence in the world. He was often linked to young girls, ranging in age from 14-19, even though he was in his early thirties. His reliance on younger women obviously did not help his marriages or interpersonal relationships. After Catcher In The Rye came out, Salinger locked himself away for weeks at a time in a bunker he had built. His wife and kids knew where he was, but they were never allowed to disturb him. For the last 40-plus years of his life, J.D. Salinger would write every day, only to never publish another piece of work. He died in 2010, but not before he was photographed by this documentary team.
There are very few authors who have intrigued people as much as J.D Salinger has. His reclusive nature and wonderful work left such a profound effect on people that they would travel from all over the world, go to his house, and hope to ask him questions about their own lives and personal struggles. There were always two big questions that people would ask him. Are you still writing? Why have you gone into hiding? To the former, Salinger always stated that he was writing every day. As for the latter, well, that’s a questionShane Salerno‘s film struggles to answer. In a film focused on the reclusive J.D Salinger, we fail to get much insight as to why he became so reclusive.
More than anything, Salinger focuses on some of the author’s lesser known works his life behind the scenes. As the interviews go on, we get recreations of scenes that feel somewhat out of place. Those recreations, along with the music in the film, do not really flow well with the theme of the documentary. I get that they are added for effect, but they just end up taking you out of the story at hand. Speaking of story, this film has a rather interesting one. Salerno has presented Salinger in a non-linear fashion, jumping back-and-forth through different dates in time. The story itself is enough to keep you interested, but afterwards, you’re left wondering “why”?
Going into this film, I barely knew anything about J.D. Salinger. I was aware that this film was kept under wraps because it gave out secret information about him, but that is about all I knew. After viewing this film, I came away with a lot of new information about who J.D Salinger was, what his life was like for example, but there was not too much that seemed all that “top secret”. Everything builds to the final moments of the film and those revelatory moments are frankly a bit lackluster.
Regardless, there were still some moments which surprised me and I feel more inclined to look back upon Salinger’s short stories with some greater understanding of what compelled him to write the stories he chose to write. If you are a fan of Salinger or are just curious to learn more about him and The Catcher in the Rye, then this is certainly a film that you’ll want to check out.