Cinematic Convolutions: Catching Words in the Rye


In the words of David Fincher on how movies affect people: “As an audience, they know you can do anything. So its not about what you do, its about what you don’t do.”

And the Catcher In the Rye doesn’t do many things.

To great effect.

This is How Catcher in The Rye made me a better filmmaker.

You might be wondering why I’m talking about a book because in my blog I generally produce videos and talk about films. Well, at the end of the day, film is a form of media used to express emotions, feelings, and information. But its not the only media. There’s books and blogs and all kinds of other things. And as a beginner making films, I want to make sure that I learn not just from films, but all different kinds of media in different ways to express what I want to.

For me, Catcher in the Rye is all about expression. Holden Caulfield does nothing but express himself the entire book. But there are times where he doesn’t.

So the question is why or what things can stop someone from expressing themselves? (And how it relates to me being a better filmmaker.)

But first we have to talk about our main character. Holden Caulfield is an interesting character to say the least. Even from the beginning of the book, we are shown that he is not your average protagonist. He might not even qualify as a protagonist. He tells us that he is a compulsive liar and that he’s been kicked out of many schools, and is getting kicked out of his current one. But yet he has this odd, yet fiery desire to protect the innocence of the people around him, especially kids like his sister Phoebe. He’s not a great student, except at English, and he’s got quite the dirty mouth. But that’s the most recognizable thing about him, his mouth, or more accurately his speech pattern.

Its odd and stringy. Its definitely more vernacular and slang than actual grammatical structure. And he makes up his own terms that we come to understand like “that killed me”. And for the most part, Holden speaks his mind and expresses himself. But there are times during the book where its obvious he doesn’t and these are the parts of the book that define him.

When Holden meets Sally for their date, he shifts his perspective from focalizing to narrating. Instead of talking to us or telling us how he feels about meeting up with Sally, he just describes what he does and even then just skimps over major details that are relevant. For example, he says that he said that he loved her! A girl he barely knew that he just met up with for a date. And yet he doesn’t tell us what he thinks about what he just said.

Holden isn’t afraid to talk about sex, and frequently discusses it with us the reader and with multiple characters throughout the novel. Yet, Holden never expresses himself sexually. He says that he could have lost his virginity many times, but when any girl tells him to stop he stops immediately, despite knowing that many of his friends would have kept going and have gotten laid. He even hires a prostitute! But right when the golden moment arises for Holden, he backs out and just says he wants to talk.

Another instance is with Jane, Holden’s old love/childhood friend. He keeps saying that he’ll call her and catch up with her. He says it over and over again throughout the entire book. He even had the chance to see her when she was down in the lobby waiting for Stradlater. But he doesn’t take it. He doesn’t call her either. He never tells her how he felt or how he feels about her.

Even at the end of the book, Holden refuses to discuss to whoever he is talking to about the next day after Pheobe and he went to the carousel, rather telling us to never talk about the past because it brings the pain of past memories to light.

So why doesn’t Holden talk to us at these specific moments, and many others, throughout the book?

Well, he just said it.


I believe that pain is the reason why Holden, and many others, do not express themselves.

In fact, I believe Holden’s pain is deep and scarring. I think the pain that Holden feels are the effects of sexual abuse from his childhood.

Hold on for a second here while I go through my conspiracy theory.

At the end of Ch. 24, Holden tells us, what I believe, is the key to his behavior throughout the book: he says that he gets nervous around men who touch him because men used to do that to him when he was a kid, ” like 20 or more times.”

A lot of people I know brush this off as just “Holden being Holden”, but I don’t see it that way. When I read that sentence in the book, it all clicked. His actions and choices, and what he chooses to not tell us, all makes sense.

But before I talk about that, I have to prove my theory. Well, that’s easy. Using this Website, here’s all the symptoms of sexual child abuse:

  • Acting out in an inappropriate sexual way with toys or objects
  • Nightmares, sleeping problems
  • Becoming withdrawn or very clingy
  • Becoming unusually secretive
  • Sudden unexplained personality changes, mood swings and seeming insecure
  • Regressing to younger behaviours, e.g. bedwetting
  • Unaccountable fear of particular places or people
  • Outburst of anger
  • Changes in eating habits
  • New adult words for body parts and no obvious source
  • Talk of a new, older friend and unexplained money or gifts
  • Self-harm (cutting, burning or other harmful activities)
  • Physical signs, such as, unexplained soreness or bruises around genitals or mouth, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy
  • Running away
  • Thoughts or attempts at suicide
  • Drug or alcohol use

Now some of these don’t apply, but here’s the list of things that all fit Holden.

  • Nightmares, sleeping problems
  • Becoming withdrawn or very clingy
  • Becoming unusually secretive
  • Sudden unexplained personality changes, mood swings and seeming insecure
  • Unaccountable fear of particular places or people
  • Outburst of anger
  • Running away
  • Thoughts or attempts at suicide
  • Drug or alcohol use

If you’ve read Catcher in the Rye recently, you know which parts of the book can apply to all of these symptoms:

Nightmares, sleeping problem

-Throughout the novel, Holden doesn’t get much sleep, and is inferred to have problems sleeping at times.

Becoming withdrawn or very clingy

-Holden goes through these valleys and hills kinds of swings where he doesn’t want to talk to anyone, or he desperately needs someone to talk to or be there for him. There is almost no in between state for Holden.

Becoming unusually secretive

-Holden’s motives for doing things aren’t quite apparent right away. Some of the choices he makes, he does so without telling us, the reader. In this way, he keeps it a secret from us, like the fact that he was abused. He would never tell anyone that, and buries it deep inside.

Sudden unexplained personality changes, mood swings and seeming insecure

-This is probably half of the book for Holden. His mood is constantly changing and he is changing his mind over and over again. He has an obvious self esteem problem, constantly trying to label other people as phonies and bring everything down to make himself feel better and not have to deal with the reality of his abuse and his supposed inferiority.

Unaccountable fear of particular places or people

-There is a scene in the book where Holden hypes up this museum that he used to go to, and how much it meant to him. He drones on about it for paragraphs, but yet when gets there, in a mere two sentences, he just says, oh, all of sudden I don’t want to go in there, not for a million bucks.

Outburst of anger

– This falls under mood swings, and the most memorable moment is when he calls Sally a pain in the ass for almost not reason besides her not understanding his rants.

Running away

-Come on. Its Catcher in the Rye. The book is about him running away. Running from himself, his responsibilities, the death of his brother, the anger of his parents and the reality of his abuse.

Thoughts or attempts of suicide

-After getting beat up for not paying the prostitute, he looks out his hotel window and literally said that if cleaning up his gory body wouldn’t have been a burden, he would have jumped.

Drug or Alcohol Use

-Holden becomes piss drunk and almost collapses several times, and breaks Phoebe’s record.

But there’s one symptom that isn’t just evidence, but explains the entire book:

  • A fear of becoming close or closeness.

This last symptom explains it all.

When Holden is with Sally, he is scared and depressed and in pain by how lonely he is, and doesn’t want to show us the reader that, and so doesn’t tell us how he feels in that instance.

When Holden is with other girls and he is told to stop, he immediately does so because his consent was not respected as a child, and so when he is told to stop by a girl, unlike his horny friends, he is reminded of his abuse and stops. This also explains why he doesn’t have sex with the prostitute, because of his abuse he has now related sex to that abuse. And especially with dealing with someone who has to engage in sex maybe not to their will, like Holden was as a child, he cannot bring himself to do the deed with Sunny because its too painful.

And the same with Jane. He cannot bring himself to call her or talk to her or get to know her again because he’s scared that she’s lost her innocence like he had. This explains why he’s so concerned that Stradlater “gave her the time.” The pain of realizing that she has changed is too much for him to bear and so he never gets to know her again. He just hopes she keeps her  kings in the back.

Holden is scared. He’s scared of himself and the pain that was done to him. Not just that, but all the other depressing things that have happened to him like his brother Allie’s death, getting kicked out of schools, and even the fencing incident have all built a guilt ridden, cynical, abused ball of thread within Holden, and Catcher in The Rye is story of how it unravels. Slowly, painfully, but surely.

And this isn’t just limited to Holden. A lot people in the world can’t express how they feel due to pain. This is a personal example, but my best friend and I were dating, when she realized she didn’t like me anymore and in fact she had feelings for someone else. She began dating this other person with the intention of telling me at some point and breaking it off with me, but she couldn’t do it. She knew how much I cared about her and all the things I had done for her. She knew would cause me pain. Terrible, terrible pain. I won’t tell you how that story ends, because well, its too painful. But just know  pain is a powerful dam that can clog the way people should express themselves.

But coming back, how does this make me a better filmmaker?

Go back to Holden’s actions. Reading the first time through, his actions make no sense. They are random and impulsive. But when finally reading through the book, and coming up with my child abuse theory, they are all “thematically appropriate.”

And that’s what Catcher in the Rye taught me about all forms of media. You HAVE to be thematically appropriate.

Much like how Holden’s desire to protect innocence stems from his own abuse as a child, my job a filmmakers must stem from whatever my purpose is for that film. In any creative choices that I make or don’t make, they have to fit what I’m trying to convey.

Look back at the two videos I’ve shared so far on this blog: Cherish Me and Check Up.

One is a PSA video to always cherish things before you lose them, and the other is a lighthearted comedy about basketball.

One is shot with thoughtful cinematography. It tries to be reflective of its message and tried to be eloquent in its delivery of its themes. I made it a priority to be creative and really use film form to tell a story and a lesson. I used a sad music in order to evoke sadness from my audience and synced it to reflect the reveal of the death of a character.

The other is shot with a concise, straightforward style. It is simplistic with the emphasis being on the jokes and characters rather than a lesson or theme. There’s much more movement and use of handheld that follows the movement and action of characters. I chose music that would be funny and try and make people laugh.

That’s what it means to be thematically appropriate. It wouldn’t make sense to throw a rap song into Cherish Me as little as it would make sense to use dramatic cinematography for a comedic video about basketball. Its all about making choices that fit your purpose.

I personally believe being thematically appropriate is the most important part of film making, because if you’re not guiding your choices and your films by what you want to convey, why are you filming?

There must be a purpose to everything you do, or don’t do.


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