The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar ★★★★

“Hm,” I imagine Wes Anderson saying. “But what if I could collapse my metatextual storytelling down into a single layer?”

And then he did. The narrator inhabits the same space as the characters; the characters adopt the narrative role. It’s singular. It comes close to being too precious without stepping over the line. By the end, when various people are debating the details of how to tell Henry Sugar’s story, it’s clear that the artifice serves to spotlight the narrative. At the same time, the narrative — a narrator telling the story of how a man finds a book which itself tells the story of how the book’s scribe met a man who told him a story — reinforces the artifice. 

Henry Sugar can’t do good without hiding his talents. He’s got to disguise himself. We curl back on ourselves once again: storytelling is good. Storytelling requires artifice. (The neorealists dissent. Alas, this is Wes Anderson’s movie and they don’t get a say.) This did not have the emotional weight of his longer, original work but as a thesis statement I can’t imagine better.

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