Danny Strong’s Rebel in the Rye is a filmed biography of the famously film and biography-eschewing J. D. Salinger. Rye follows Salinger (Nicholas Hoult) from his tutelage under Columbia University professor Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey), who encourages him to write a novel about that “Holden Caulfield” character. Rebel then continues through Salinger’s time in the Second World War and the eventual publication of Catcher in the Rye. Director Strong makes it clear how much postwar PTSD amplified Salinger’s inherent anti-sociability — and curiously, Hoult is also confirmed to play J.R.R. Tolkien in a movie about how fighting in the first World War affected the writing of Toklien’s own most famous work.
But Rebel by no means suggests Salinger was an overnight success, and J. D.’s also an entitled dick from the start. So was his literary avatar Holden Caulfield, of course, and dickishness is hardly rare among writers. The movie ends when Salinger goes into seclusion because the fame of writing an era-defining novel becomes too much for his snowflake sensibilities. He mostly stopped publishing, which he could afford to do. Still, millions of people are moved by your words and want to read more of them, and you keep the words to yourself because you have the financial privilege of never publishing again? Wow, what a rebel.
Rebel in the Rye
Opens Friday at the Embarcadero Center Cinema.