A Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar (2023)

A Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar (2023) : Review and Film Summary

A Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar (2023): About

Release date: September 20, 2023 (USA)
Director: Wes Anderson
Story by: Roald Dahl
Distributed by: Netflix

Anderson’s Exquisite Cinematic Presentation

In his second cinematic offering of 2023, following the exceptional “Asteroid City,” director Wes Anderson brings forth a finely crafted narrative inspired by Roald Dahl’s “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Although Dahl’s original work targeted children, Anderson adeptly captures its more mature themes and subtle nuances, adding depth to its already sardonic wit.

Netflix Introduction with Initial Hesitation

This marks Anderson’s first venture into Netflix, and it’s noteworthy that he initially approached the project with some reluctance. During the development phase, Dahl’s estate secured a lucrative deal with the streaming giant, leading to Anderson’s creation of a meticulously crafted 40-minute narrative, primarily adhering to the traditional Academy ratio. However, at crucial junctures, the frame itself expands beyond these boundaries.

An Outstanding Cast in Anderson’s Realm

In contrast to his previous endeavors, this film showcases live-action performances, all from well-established and dependable actors. Ralph Fiennes embodies a character reminiscent of Dahl himself. The film commences in an Andersonian reimagining of the author’s actual “writing hut,” where Fiennes, after listing the prerequisites for his creative process, embarks on a narrative claiming roots in reality.

Detailed Set Design and Compelling Storytelling

Dahl’s original narrative spans the globe, potentially lending itself to an expensive, multi-location film. However, Anderson chooses to confine the action to a series of painstakingly designed sets, a characteristic hallmark of his filmmaking. The actors directly engage with the camera, serving as both narrators and characters. Their dialogue, delivered with minimal overt emotion but plenty of nuanced craftsmanship, maintains a brisk pace.

A Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar (2023)

Preserving Dahl’s Insight and Philosophy

While the dialogue primarily consists of Dahl’s own words, Anderson condenses the original short story. The result is a tale that, while whimsical and not necessarily tailored for children, remains accessible to all audiences. Anderson wisely refrains from attempting to embellish Dahl’s dry wit, recognizing its inherent brilliance. Dahl’s description of the mega-rich title character is revealing: “Men like Henry Sugar are to be found drifting like seaweed all over the world. They can be seen especially in London, New York, Paris, Nassau, Montego Bay, Cannes, and San Tropez. They are not particularly bad men, but they are not good men either. They are of no particular importance; they’re simply part of the decoration.”

A Meta-Narrative Unveiled

The story itself is a meta-narrative (unless, of course, you choose to accept Dahl’s claim that it’s true). It takes flight when Henry (portrayed with perfection by Benedict Cumberbatch) becomes bored and decides to borrow a book from a wealthy friend’s library. Naturally, he selects the thinnest volume available, a dissertation about a man who possesses the ability to see without his eyes. This enigmatic man is brought to life by Ben Kingsley, with Dev Patel and Richard Ayoade portraying the doctors who confirm his extraordinary power. What captures Henry’s attention is the man’s capacity to see through down-turned playing cards. As an avid but not particularly skilled gambler, Henry embarks on a journey of self-discovery, learning to perceive without the use of his eyes. He employs a study method passed down by a cantankerous yogi and isolates himself from society for several years, driven by devotion and obsession.

A Cinematic Nod and a Unique Outcome

The concept of gaining an advantage in card games through extraordinary sight may be familiar to cinephiles from Roger Corman’s 1963 film “X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes.” In that movie, the ability is chemically induced and ultimately leads to the character seeing too much, a theme that resonates with “Oppenheimer” in its exploration of the limits of perception.

However, Henry’s newfound ability leads to a different outcome, one that may surprise those unfamiliar with Dahl’s narrative. Anderson’s interpretation is both charming and heartwarming, a spiritual growth story elegantly presented in his signature style. In “Henry Sugar,” Anderson’s delivery is not eccentric for its own sake but beautifully balanced, with the form enhancing the content in a truly delightful manner.

A Review from the Venice Film Festival

This review was composed during the 2023 Venice Film Festival. “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” is set to hit theaters on September 20th and Netflix on September 27th.


FAQs – A Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar (2023) 


Q1: What is “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” about? A1: “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” is a cinematic adaptation of Roald Dahl’s work, directed by Wes Anderson. It tells the tale of Henry Sugar, a character played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who embarks on a journey of self-discovery after discovering a unique ability to see without his eyes.

Q2: Is this Wes Anderson’s first Netflix movie? A2: Yes, “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” marks Wes Anderson’s debut on Netflix as a filmmaker.

Q3: How faithful is the adaptation to Roald Dahl’s original work? A3: While the dialogue primarily consists of Dahl’s own words, Wes Anderson condenses the original short story to fit the cinematic format. The adaptation captures the whimsical and mature themes of Dahl’s work, making it accessible to a broad audience.

Q4: Who are the notable actors in the film? A4: The film features a stellar cast, including Ralph Fiennes, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ben Kingsley, Dev Patel, and Richard Ayoade.

Q5: Does the film explore any unique themes or concepts? A5: Yes, the story delves into the concept of seeing without one’s eyes, a theme that adds a layer of intrigue and uniqueness to the narrative.

Q6: Is the film connected to any previous cinematic works or references? A6: Yes, there is a nod to the concept of gaining an advantage in card games through extraordinary sight, which cinephiles might recognize from Roger Corman’s 1963 film “X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes.”

Q7: What can viewers expect from Wes Anderson’s direction in this film? A7: Anderson’s direction in “Henry Sugar” is described as beautifully balanced and elegantly presented, with form enhancing content in his signature style.

Q8: When and where can I watch “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar”? A8: The film premiered at the 2023 Venice Film Festival and is set to be released theatrically on September 20th. It will also be available for streaming on Netflix starting September 27th.

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