J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is one of the most popularized bildungsroman novels to ever be published. Because it is a coming-of-age novel, it has been appreciated by a new generation of adolescents for decades.
Holden Caulfield is a sophomore at a northeastern liberal arts college, but the movie begins as he is reading his letter of expulsion. Although Holden has faced a series of academic shortcomings throughout his life, it is evident that he is quite intelligent. However, his somewhat traumatic youth has led him to create an apathetic exterior shell in order to conceal what he perceives as inner weakness. By the time the narrative begins, he has already developed a cynicism towards growing up that any adolescent can relate to on a fundamental level.
After being expelled, 19 year old Holden takes the train back to his hometown of New York City, but decides to delay confronting his parents about the expulsion. In the meantime, he roams around the more deserted areas of the city, making every decision on a whim but being sure to avoid the crowds of ‘phony’ tourists. Consumed by booze and apathy, Holden tries to find meaning in this transitional period of his life by rekindling old romances, visiting acquaintances, and engaging in the stereotypical debauchery of a college student. However, Holden is underwhelmed by the entire affair and quick to criticize those around him.
Ultimately, the plot line is almost inconsequential to the heart of the film. Rather, it is the select few relationships and memories that Holden holds dear that influence his character’s development. In the original novel, Holden narrates the story himself, providing the reader with insight into these personal thoughts and emotions. In fact, the story is littered with Holden’s musings and tangential observations. However, film narrators often hinder the fluidity of the story. Therefore, in the film adaptation, the importance of these narrations will be captured through flashbacks. Not only does this allow the audience to better understand Holden’s inner emotions without the need for a narrator, but they provide an opportunity to visually portray characters such as Jane Gallagher or his younger brother Allie. Jane never actually appears in novel and Allie died three years before Holden’s expulsion, but these characters have a stronger influence on Holden’s character than almost anyone that he actually encounters during his adventures.
- Holden Caulfield:
Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of the film, is a 19 year old boy who was just expelled from college. He delays revealing his expulsion to his parents while he soul-searches in New York City. As he reluctantly transitions from a somewhat traumatic childhood to adulthood, Holden creates a tough exterior to compensate for his sensitive and somewhat self-conscious interior, like many adolescents. However, his individuality and inability to maintain close relationships forces him to deal with these issues alone and his discomfort with the reality of his own weaknesses leads him to identify and criticize them externally. Driven by a high level of intelligence, Holden develops a deeply rooted judgmental cynicism that, in tandem with his impulsive emotions, keeps him constantly on the verge of emotional collapse. Ironically, he criticizes the rampant hypocrisy that he sees around him while he is being hypocritical.
- Phoebe Caulfield:
Despite being six years younger than Holden, Phoebe is the strongest influence on his decisions in the film and their relationship is the most important of the novel. Extremely intelligent and mature for her age, Phoebe actually criticizes many of Holden’s immature qualities, but does so with a childish innocence that Holden longs for.
- Jane Gallagher:
Although Jane never physically appears in the narrative, her presence is strongly felt. After spending a summer as her neighbor, Holden develops a strong affinity for Jane; her appearance as well as character.
- Allie Caulfield:
Allie (Holden’s younger brother) dies of leukemia three years before Holden’s expulsion. Therefore, we are only introduced to his character through Holden’s personal memories. Ultimately, his perception of Allie’s character is the only which truly matters. To Holden, Allie is a model child – easily the smartest of the family and extremely friendly. The idea of his death and the loss of someone as genuine as Allie haunts Holden and is symbolized in Allie’s baseball glove; one of the very few things that Holden carries throughout the novel.
Alienation is a common theme among bildungsroman novels because it is a common emotion among adolescents during the transition from childhood and adulthood. For Holden, he sees childhood as a comfortable place of innocence and adulthood as a foreign, superficial hypocrisy. As a result, he deliberately alienates himself from both sides of the adolescent line, seeing himself as too mature for childhood but anxious of adulthood. As a result, his cynicism, designed to protect him from hurt, only invites loneliness.
Holden’s fear of intimacy is a subsidiary of the greater theme of isolation/alienation. Like many adolescents, his relationships with others are complicated and, although Holden encounters multiple opportunities for both emotional and/or physical relationships, he avoids them. Sex and concrete relationships are only one more step towards the ‘phony’ adulthood that he is putting off for as long as possible.
The looming shadow of death haunts Holden throughout the narrative. This is emphasized by Holden’s close relationship with his younger brother Allie, who died three years before the beginning of the narrative. Holden desperately wants time to stand still, fearing change. Thus, the inevitability of death represents the impossibility of this desire.
In order to create this modern ‘phony’ world that Holden perceives, his college environment will be the stereotype of a small, intellectual liberal arts college in the northeast. Thus, Holden will be surrounded by highbrow peers who are knowledgeable yet snobby and embody the phony adulthood that infuriates him.
- Family Apartment:
The Caulfield family lives in an apartment building on the upper-east side of Manhattan. While not excessively lavish, it is clear from the appearance of the building and the interior furniture that his parents have done well for themselves but do not necessarily flaunt it.
- Various Bars:
Although underage, Holden frequents numerous bars during his time in New York City. These locations will be dirty, dimly-lit dive bars that not only visually represent the rut that he is in, but also are the only places where he can be served underage, further emphasizing his alienation from the adult world.
- Central Park Duck Pond:
As one of the most iconic locations of the original novel, the duck pond which has been deserted over winter embodies the transitional period of Holden’s life between childhood and adulthood. His inquiries into where the ducks go during winter is symbolic of his uncertainty about his own future and the landscape must emphasize this. On the verge of winter, the pond should be desolate and surrounded by trees that are losing their leaves, setting the ominous tone of winter.
5.) Action Scene:
Holden and Phoebe are sitting on a weathered bench, staring at the nearby carousel as it revolves over and over again. The song “Smoke in Your Eyes” plays ominously in the background while Phoebe still refuses to speak to Holden. Finally, he convinces her to take some money and ride the carousel, but adamantly refuses to join her. Eagerly, Phoebe races towards the practically empty carousel and picks out a worn, brown horse. As she rejoices on the ride and waves emphatically at Holden, he sits pensively. After the ride finishes, Phoebe returns joyfully to Holden, her childlike innocence making it impossible for her to continue holding her grudge. Holden hands Phoebe some more money. As she gets up to take another ride, it begins to drizzle. Phoebe notices a few raindrops, turns around, reaches into Holden’s coat pocket, and pulls out Holden’s red baseball cap. She places it on Holden’s head, arranges it nicely, kisses him on the cheek, and then hastily sprints off to catch the ride. After carefully selecting the same, run-down carousel horse, Phoebe goes around and around in pure, childish bliss. As Holden watches and admires her, it begins to rain much more heavily. The few parents of other children scatter for shelter, but Holden does not move a muscle. As he intently watches Phoebe enjoying herself, Holden breaks his solemnity and slowly begins to grin. Despite the rain, his eyes are clearly watering beneath his hat and a few, emotion-filled tears drip down his face. As the ride ends and Phoebe returns, Holden wipes his face before Phoebe can see, but the smile remains. Holden grabs Phoebe’s hand and they walk into the sunset, presumably back home.
6.) Dialogue Scene:
Holden: “Phoebe… Phoebe…”
Phoebe: “Holden! When did you get home?!”
H: “Not so goddamn loud… How are you?”
P: “Mom said you wouldn’t be home until Wednesday?”
H: “Shh… Quiet down, you’re being loud as hell… I got out early.”
P: “Stop swearing and stop lying! You got expelled again didn’t you?! Dad’s gonna kill you…”
H: “No, no. I just finished early. C’mon Phoebe don’t ignore me… That school was full of phonies. Just a bunch of snobby rich kids trying to one-up each other with their intelligence. The teachers too… Everyone is on a high horse and think that they are so much better than the rest of the world. Plus, everybody keeps saying that this is going to be the best time of my life. I sure hope not. How does anyone even know, I haven’t had the rest of my life yet. Anyways it’s really depressing.”
P: “…Dad’s gonna kill you…”
H: “C’mon I just didn’t like it. I left early by choice. They didn’t kick me out…”
P: “I know they did Holden! It’s not like this is the first time this has happened… You always complain about everything!”
H: “I do not.”
P: “Do so. Name one thing you really like.”
H: “Well, I like….”
H: “…I can’t really think of anything right now because I’m tired but of course I like a lot of stuff.”
P: “You can’t name one thing!”
H: “… Fine… Allie.”
P: “Allie’s dead!!”
H: “Alright I’m sorry Phoebe but you put me on the spot. I can still really like him even though he’s dead, right? You don’t stop liking someone just because they died, do you?”
P: “You know that still doesn’t count… Okay, what do you want to be in the future? A doctor? A lawyer like Dad?”
H: “Yeah I guess those are alright, you know, if you’re in it for the right reasons. Like it would be great to save lives or defend innocent people for stuff they didn’t do, but… You know, all those people are just in it for the money and the lifestyle so that they can tell everyone else that they have some fancy job. I don’t know, maybe I…”
H: “Was that the door? Shh… I got to go Phoebe, I’ll see you soon.”
P: “What, why? I knew you got expelled…”
H: “Don’t tell Mom and Dad I was here, okay? I’ll be back soon.”
J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is one of the few remaining American literary classics that has not yet been adapted to the film medium. Ranked as America’s 13th most controversial book by the American Library Association, this work deserve a fresh interpretation. Although originally set in the 1950’s, the themes of alienation and relationships within this coming-of-age tale are timeless. Therefore, I am proposing to take the protagonist Holden out of the 1950’s and into the modern world. This will appeal to the current adolescent crowd and mold Salinger’s original themes around more contemporary issues. Given its historic popularity, the movie will already attract older viewers, while the modern setting will entice a young adult demographic. In addition, with the popular explosion of reality TV, Internet, and social media, the world has only become more ‘phony’ (as Holden would describe it) since the 1950’s.
In the modern adaptation, Holden’s character will also be a few years older than in the original novel for two primary reasons. First, the drinking age is now 21 in the United States and it needs to be believable that Holden would be frequenting bars. Secondly, due to the way our society has developed, a 16 year old today is not at the same crossroads as a 16 year old in the 1950’s. Instead, a college student today is closer to the point in life that Holden was struggling with.
The primary deterrent in the making this film is the narrative voice with which the original novel is written. The importance of Holden’s time in NY is not in the actual events but in his contemplation; how he perceives and interprets those events. Unfortunately, narration can be very difficult to capture adequately in the film medium. Therefore, flashbacks will fill this void. The utilization of flashbacks provide an opportunity to visually represent characters such as Allie Caulfield or Jane Gallagher that otherwise would not make it on the screen. Because of their strong influence on Holden’s character and decisions, the stories that are behind that need to be shown.