Surprisingly given its status in American literature, The Catcher in the Rye has never been made into a movie. Many major Hollywood producers and directors have tried to secure the film rights, but none of them has succeeded in earning the trust of J. D. Salinger or his estate. Salinger himself felt skeptical that his novel could succeed as a film. In particular, he doubted that any film could adequately capture Holden’s voice. He explained his position in a 1957 letter: “for me, the weight of the book is in the narrator’s voice. . . . He can’t legitimately be separated from his own first-person technique.” Salinger worried that cinematic conventions like voiceovers would fail to convey Holden’s internal perspective properly. He also mentions “the immeasurably risky business of using actors” as a reason for avoiding any adaptation: “It would take someone with X to bring it off, and no very young man even if he has X quite knows what to do with it.” Although there is still no plan to bring The Catcher in the Rye to the screen, since Salinger’s death in 2010, a couple of films about Salinger himself have appeared. Of particular interest is Rebel in the Rye.
Rebel in the Rye (2017)
Director: Danny Strong
Notable Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Kevin Spacey
Danny Strong’s biopic is based on Kenneth Slawenski’s biography, J. D. Salinger: A Life. The film documents the life of J. D. Salinger (played by Nicholas Hoult) from his youth into the post-World War II era, up to the time when he published his first novel, The Catcher in the Rye. Although the film offers a rare depiction of the famously reclusive writer, many critics have dismissed the film on the grounds that Strong conflated Salinger with his creation, Holden Caulfield. As film critic Alberto Corona writes, “Rebel in the Rye is so eager to be a transcript for Catcher in the Rye that it constantly seeks to equate the author with the fictional teenager, even when the author was much older.” In spite of such criticisms, the film remains useful for fans of Salinger’s novels who want a glimpse of the life behind the work.