Why A J.D. Salinger Biopic Might Actually Make You Think Twice Before Posting That Instagram
At the apex of his fame, J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye, ceased publishing — full stop. He traded in his bustling New York City life for the quiet, serene New Hampshire woods where he continued to write up until his death in 2010. But what was once his greatest goal in life — to be published — had become a burden. He no longer wanted to share what he had written with the world, and found peace in knowing that his experiences and his words were his alone. He rarely allowed visitors, and essentially disappeared. But in 2017, when every social media app is a platform to be seen and stay connected, it's hard to imagine striving to be invisible. Yet Rebel in the Rye, the 2017 biopic written and directed by Danny Strong, and starring Nicholas Hoult as the recluse writer, may make you rethink today's "pics or it didn't happen" culture.
"Salinger very famously stopped publishing at the height of his fame. He wrote for 40 odd years almost every day, so they say, and never published a word," Strong says over the phone. "To me, that is the journey of the artist. I always refer to his journey as him reaching a writer nirvana, where it's incredibly pure for him. It's literally just writing to write."
Writing to write, or doing any activity just for the sake of doing it, seems almost unrelatable in 2017, where instagram feeds and Facebook statuses are filled with accomplishments and photo evidence that a task or activity has been experienced or completed. But Strong and Hoult both argue that there is something to be said for working simply for work's sake.
"I was writing scripts for 7 years before I made my first dollar as a screenwriter, and that's a very long time to be rejected at something," Strong says. "I was passed on endlessly for years by agents, managers, studio executives. I got to a point where I was like, 'Why am I doing this if no one seems to want it?'"
It's a larger question most humans face at some point in their lives: Is it worth doing something if no one recognizes your talent or efforts? Is it worth climbing the picturesque mountain, or baking the awesome, time-intensive cake, if no one applauds it? Is it still a worthwhile adventure in itself? Can enjoyment be had in the doing of something, as opposed to the recognition that comes with doing it?
For Hoult, the answer is easy. "Completely," he says, noting that he'll never take on a role because of a promise that audiences will view it. "A Robert DeNiro quote I read when I was pretty young said, 'the talent is in the choices.' I think that's very much the case. People have different reasons for doing what they do, but I've always seen it as, you want to make the best movies, and play the most interesting characters, and try to tell the best stories."
Both Hoult and Strong were drawn to Salinger's story because of his refusal to publish, and because he seemingly felt worthwhile and important even without being recognized on a daily basis. But Salinger grew up decades ago, and according to the Pew Research Center, 7 in 10 Americans used social media in 2016, and a whopping 86 percent of 18-29 year olds used it.
It's tough to say if Salinger would have gone cold turkey if he was a young person in 2017, but nonetheless, his ability to simply exist is an appealing one. He seemingly wasn't concerned with other people's perception of him, and for many Americans addicted to apps, that could be a liberating experience.
It feels good to feel appreciated, connected, recognized, and affirmed by others, but Rebel in the Rye is a subtle reminder that books are worth writing — and life is worth living — even if just for yourself.