Mark Reviews Movies

Salinger

SALINGER

1 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Shane Salerno

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing war images, thematic elements and smoking)

Running Time: 2:09

Release Date: 9/6/13 (limited); 9/20/13 (wider)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 19, 2013

In high school, my English teacher had us read J.D. Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" in class. For some reason, I had to share my copy of the story with a classmate—a seemingly intelligent girl. She must have been, given the requirements of the class. As I completed a page, I twisted my head toward her to make sure we had both finished reading it. She nodded every time, and I turned the page. When I reached that final, curt paragraph—so much more impactful after stretches of detail and dialogue between a man and a young girl, which turns the final moment into a matter-of-fact symptom of everything that has come before it—in which Seymour Glass makes his final movements in a hotel room where his wife is sleeping, I was stunned.

I sat for a moment, gathering my thoughts, and made one last turn of my head toward my reading partner. I expressed some form of disbelief, and she sat with a blank face. Surely, she was having an emotional reaction similar to mine, so I inquired what she thought of that last paragraph. "I didn't read it," she responded.

At first, I was a little surprised. Why hadn't she read the story? Quickly, I became offended. How could she not have read it? Did she have any idea what she was missing? I don't know if the girl ever did read "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" at any point in her life after the in-class reading, but I am quite certain that Salinger is probably the perfect documentary about the author for her.

It's clear director Shane Salerno is an admirer of Salinger, but his movie has no patience for the writer's work. When "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" comes up in the chronology of Salinger's works, he tells us when it was published and gives us a brief description of what happens, focusing entirely on that short collection of final sentences.

In other words, that relatively trivial observation juxtaposing the last paragraph with everything that precedes it is more worthwhile to understanding the story than anything Salerno gives us here. Instead, he tells us about a young girl of 14 whom Salinger met on a beach one summer and with whom he would walk and talk. Unless the topic of a "bananafish," an imaginary creature that serves as a metaphor for the central character's inability to cope with the world, ever came up in their conversations, this anecdote tells us nothing about the story or, for that matter, any other piece of Salinger's writing. Even if that metaphor came up in his talks with this girl, it's a stretch.

The reason is perfectly stated by that young girl, who is now a much older woman and has fond remembrances of her time on the beach with "Jerry." Salinger, she says, wanted his writing to be judged on its own merits and analyzed on its content (How's that for a novel concept?).

If the testimony of an acquaintance isn't enough to solidify that theory, there is, of course, the fact that the author stopped publishing his work in 1965, though he, according to family and a handful of people who knew him at various periods during his seclusion, continued to write. He was a famous recluse, which Salerno argues was part of some master plan on Salinger part to become something more than famous—a legend.

See, he wasn't really a recluse, say interview subjects that range from literary critics and authors to actors and experts in random fields that have some sort of tie to whatever part of Salinger's life Salerno wants to explore. After all, he gave a few interviews, occasionally communicated with people from the outside world, and would, apparently, give a little time to talk to fans who made the pilgrimage to his home in the middle of the woods outside a small town in New Hampshire in order to try to find the meaning of their lives through him. They, like Salerno, believe the artist has a responsible to his or her audience, and they can't seem to get over the fact that Salinger disagreed with that point.

Between the sensationalistic gossip and basic chronology (presented as an actor portraying the writer sits alone on a stage in front of a giant screen upon which information is displayed), Salerno makes Salinger into an icon—holding on the few photos of him, treating film of him during World War II into sacred relics, and announcing that the rumored pieces he wrote while in hiding will be published and will, invariably, be "masterpieces." Actually, that is more thought than Salinger gives to any of the writer's work that we know exists.

Note: This review is based on the original version of the movie, which was released on September 6 in New York City and Los Angeles. For its national release, additional material has been added as a "special edition" version, which, according to the movie's distributor the Weinstein Company, includes more "about Salinger's life, his complex relationships with young women, and footage of the iconic author." Given that the treatment of those elements in the version that I, the majority of other critics, and those who paid to see the movie upon its limited release saw, I cannot imagine that the inclusion of more would have any improving effect on the movie.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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