Review: Salinger, Shane Salerno

This week’s Editor’s Weekend Pick is Shane Salerno’s documentary on the iconic, reclusive American novelist J. D. Salinger, aptly titled Salinger.

It’s hard to find anyone whose adolescent heart hasn’t been marked somehow by J. D. Salinger’s coming-of-age novel Catcher in the Rye, let alone someone who hasn’t read it. The novel, narrated unforgettably by phony-hating Holden Caulfield, has affected millions, selling 250,000 copies every single year after its original publication over half a century ago.

Salinger documents the worldwide sensation its author caused when he published his future American high-school staple, but more than that, the film follows the effects that Catcher’s difficult moral complexities had on Salinger, whose own demons lurked in the corners of his rise to fame and fortune. With 10 years of research in its making, the film’s findings are a revealing portrait of the man who put so much of himself into his antihero.

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Salerno takes an elaborate explanation of Salinger’s experiences in WWII, the event that most shaped his voice as a writer and the man he was to be afterward. The film enters into a vividly rendered list of the wartime atrocities that changed Salinger’s life, and the struggles he faced upon his return to society – the brutal garden of superficial lies that his ensuing novels inhabit. Removing himself from the world, Salinger grew into the figure the public came to recognize and later mythologize – corresponding only with a close group of friends and, notoriously, his string of younger lovers (some of whom are interviewed here to troubling, touching effect).

Much like its subject himself, Salinger the documentary is shrouded in secrecy, its distribution strategy centered around concealing some major shockers about Salinger’s life and writings (fans will have an abundance of meat to chew on, shall we say). The film does run decidedly long on biographical detail, and treads at times into unnecessarily sentimental waters with its treatment of Catcher (a cultural icon that doesn’t perhaps require quite as much contextualizing fanfare as Salerno devotes to it). Despite these flaws, Salinger is still the most interesting release coming out this week – an immensely absorbing story of a man whose sole purpose, himself, was bringing characters to life. MM

Salinger opens in limited release on Friday, September 6 2013, courtesy of the Weinstein Company.

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0 Comments

  1. reinadeoz

    September 6, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    Initial reactions to the book were mixed, ranging from The New York Times hailing Catcher as “an unusually brilliant first novel”[61] to denigrations of the book’s monotonous language and the “immorality and perversion” of Holden,[62] who uses religious slurs and freely discusses casual sex and prostitution.[63] The novel was a popular success; within two months of its publication, The Catcher in the Rye had been reprinted eight times. It spent thirty weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list.

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