Rebel In The Rye
by writer/director Danny Strong
It all started with a quaint, old-fashioned neighborhood bookstore, four years ago. I was walking down 3rd Ave in New York City when I saw a copy of J.D. Salinger: A Life by Kenneth Slawenski in the glass window. I had loved The Catcher in the Rye in high school and over the years had read various other stories by Salinger, but I knew very little about the author and I was surprised (naïvely) that there was enough public information about him to fill a biography. He had been such an enigmatic figure when I was growing up, famous for being a ‘recluse,’ that I had always assumed the details of his life were shrouded in mystery.
I immediately bought the book and was stunned by his journey. There were so many fascinating anecdotes; his desire to be a writer and his quest for literary success, his relationship with Oona O’Neill, the creation of his alter ego Holden Caulfield, his journey to seclusion in Cornish, New Hampshire, but what surprised me the most was his horrific experiences in World War II. Salinger was involved in some of the darkest, most violent chapters of that most violent war. After learning that one of the seminal masterpieces of the 20th century had come from the mind of someone who lived through the worst experiences in human history, I urgently felt his story needed to be told to a mass audience and I knew I wanted to be the one to tell it.
What moved me the most about his journey was the theme of art being created from trauma. I truly believe his story could be inspiring to countless people; writers thinking they could never succeed or any artist—actor, dancer, painter, musician—facing the daunting self-doubt of deciding to commit one’s life to their art. Beyond the world of artists, I also feel Salinger’s journey could be deeply beneficial to anyone who has suffered trauma, whether in war, abuse, violence, or something as simple as a bad accident. The lessons Salinger had to learn to overcome his trauma could help millions of people suffering from the devastating effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
For me, this is a story of a writer, an artist, a veteran and a survivor. J.D. Salinger certainly wasn’t a perfect person (making him all the more fascinating subject matter for a film), but after surviving unspeakable horror, he would end up channeling his trauma into works of art that would move millions and millions of people for decades to come. It’s a story I find fascinating, inspiring, funny, sad and powerful. His tale is a unique American journey and I am truly humbled and honored to get to share it with you.